Changing sex risk behaviors, gender norms, and relationship dynamics among couples in Cape Town, South Africa: Efficacy of an intervention on the dyad

Article

Focus Areas: Health & Wellness

RATIONALE: South Africa continues to experience new HIV infections, with the highest risk among Black Africans living in poor communities. Most HIV prevention interventions target women or men separately and only a small number target couples jointly.

OBJECTIVE: This study examines varying strategies to engage women and men around HIV prevention and improved couple interactions.

METHODS: The study comprises three arms: (1) a couple-based intervention delivered to women and men jointly; (2) women and men both offered a gender-focused intervention that is delivered to them separately; and (3) an intervention offered to women only and their male partners receive standard HIV testing and counseling (comparison arm). Between June 2010 and April 2012, men were identified in and around drinking establishments in a large disadvantaged community in Cape Town and asked to participate in the study if they drink regularly, had recent unprotected sex with their partner, and have a female partner who was willing to participate in the study.

RESULTS: A total of 299 couples completed the baseline assessment and 276 were included in the analysis of sexual risk, partner communication, conflict resolution, and gender norm outcomes at baseline and six-month follow-up. Couples that participated in the couple-level intervention and couples where both partners received the intervention separately had better couple-level gender norms than couples in the comparison arm (women only receive intervention). Further, couples in the couple-level intervention and the both partners exposed separately arms were more likely to have the man only report consistent condom use than neither partner report consistent condom use than couples in the comparison arm.

CONCLUSION: Community-based HIV prevention intervention programs need to consider strategies to engage women and men and, if feasible, reach both partners jointly. Couple-level interventions are promising to improve gender norms and subsequently improve health outcomes, including reduced HIV risk among women, men, and couples.

Speizer, I. S., W. A. Zule, T. Carney, F. A. Browne, J. Ndirangu and W. M. Wechsberg (2018). "Changing sex risk behaviors, gender norms, and relationship dynamics among couples in Cape Town, South Africa: Efficacy of an intervention on the dyad." Soc Sci Med 209: 95-103.

Experts

Felicia Browne

"I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work on applied, gender-focused projects in the community in which I grew up, in hopes of having an impact on HIV, STIs and other health outcomes among African-American adolescent girls and young women."

Wendee Wechsberg

“We must listen to the communities, the local people, to understand culturally what is going to fit and what is going to be the language of the research, and not just say we know what to do here.”