Introduction: The recent availability of efficacious prevention interventions among stable couples offers new opportunities for reducing HIV incidence in sub-Saharan Africa. Understanding the dynamics of HIV incidence among stable couples is critical to inform HIV prevention strategy across sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: We quantified the sources of HIV incidence arising among stable couples in sub-Saharan Africa using a cohort-type mathematical model parameterized by nationally representative data. Uncertainty and sensitivity analyses were incorporated.
Results: HIV incidence arising among stable concordant HIV-negative couples contribute each year, on average, 29.4% of total HIV incidence; of those, 22.5% (range: 11.1%-39.8%) are infections acquired by one of the partners from sources external to the couple, less than 1% are infections acquired by both partners from external sources within a year and 6.8% (range: 3.6%-11.6%) are transmissions to the uninfected partner in the couple in less than a year after the other partner acquired the infection from an external source. The mean contribution of stable HIV sero-discordant couples to total HIV incidence is 30.4%, with most of those, 29.7% (range: 9.1%-47.9%), being due to HIV transmissions from the infected to the uninfected partner within the couple. The remaining incidence, 40.2% (range: 23.7%-64.6%), occurs among persons not in stable couples.
Conclusions: Close to two-thirds of total HIV incidence in sub-Saharan Africa occur among stable couples; however, only half of this incidence is attributed to HIV transmissions from the infected to the uninfected partner in the couple. The remaining incidence is acquired through extra-partner sex. Substantial reductions in HIV incidence can be achieved only through a prevention approach that targets all modes of HIV exposure among stable couples and among individuals not in stable couples.
Keywords: HIV incidence; Sub-Saharan Africa; demographic and health surveys; mathematical model; sources of infection; stable couples.