What's Love Got to Do With It? Explaining Adherence to Oral Antiretroviral Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV Serodiscordant Couples.

Published: January 19, 2012

OBJECTIVE(S): Adherence may be the "Achilles heel" of pre-exposure prophylaxis ("PrEP"), a promising biomedical approach to HIV prevention. This paper presents an explanation of PrEP adherence for African serodiscordant couples derived from qualitative data.

DESIGN: Explaining quantitative findings is one way qualitative investigation contributes to research in medicine and public health. This qualitative interview study was nested in the Partners PrEP Study, a phase III randomized trial evaluating oral tenofovir and emtricitabine/tenofovir PrEP to prevent HIV acquisition by HIV-uninfected partners in serodiscordant heterosexual couples.

METHODS: In-depth qualitative interviews were provided by 60 Partners PrEP Study participants in Uganda. Interviews used open-ended questions eliciting information on adherence experiences, barriers, and facilitators. An inductive approach informed by grounded theory methodology was used to analyze study data.

RESULTS: The proposed explanation may be summarized as follows. Serodiscordance de-stabilizes couples, as the HIV-negative partner reacts with anger, fear and sadness to the implication of infidelity represented by HIV infection. A ‘discordance dilemma’ ensues, as the desire to avoid acquiring HIV and the advantages of preserving the relationship become competing priorities. PrEP is seen as a solution – a means of safeguarding health without ending the relationship. PrEP users benefit from the support of partners, who reinforce adherence. Where discord in the relationship persists, adherence suffers.

CONCLUSION: PrEP adherence in serodiscordant couples may be understood as a function of the desire to reduce risk while preserving a partnered relationship. PrEP use in stable couples may be associated with improved adherence and thus, greater effectiveness.

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