Designing a couple-based relationship strengthening and health enhancing intervention for pregnant women living with HIV and their male partners in Zambia: Interview findings from the target community

Soc Sci Med. 2021 Aug;283:114029. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114029. Epub 2021 May 13.


Introduction: Interpersonal support can promote positive outcomes among people living with HIV. In order to develop an acceptable psychoeducational couples-based intervention aimed at strengthening the relationship context and improving HIV outcomes before and after pregnancy, we conducted qualitative interviews with pregnant women living with HIV and their male partners.

Methods: We interviewed a convenience clinic-based sample of pregnant women living with HIV (n = 30) and male partners (n = 18) in Lusaka, Zambia. Interviews included pile sorting relationship topics in order of perceived priority. Interviews also focused on family health concerns. Interviews were audio-recorded, translated, transcribed, and thematically analyzed. Pile sorting data was analyzed using descriptive statistics.

Results: All female participants were living with HIV; 61% of the male partners interviewed were additionally living with HIV. The most prioritized relationship topic among both genders was communication between couples. Honesty and respect were important relationship topics but prioritized differently based on gender. Female participants considered emotional and instrumental support from male partners critical for their physical and mental health; men did not prioritize support. Intimate partner violence was discussed often by both genders. Family health priorities included good nutrition during pregnancy, preventing infant HIV infection, safe infant feeding, sexual health, and men's alcohol use.

Conclusions: A major contribution of this study is a better understanding of the dyad-level factors pregnant women living with HIV and their male partners perceive to be the most important for a healthy, well-functioning relationship. This study additionally identified gaps in antenatal health education and the specific family health issues most prioritized by pregnant women living with HIV and their male partners. The findings of this study will inform the development of an acceptable couples-based intervention with greater likelihood of efficacy in strengthening the relationship context and promoting family health during and after pregnancies that are affected by HIV.

Keywords: Couples; HIV; Heterosexual relationships; Intervention development; Marriage; Pregnancy; Prevention of mother-to-child transmission; Relationship dynamics; Social support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • HIV Infections*
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women
  • Sexual Partners
  • Social Support
  • Zambia