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J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2012 Apr 15;59(5):463-8. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0b013e31824a060b.

What's love got to do with it? Explaining adherence to oral antiretroviral pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV-serodiscordant couples.

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Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



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


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.


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.


The proposed explanation may be summarized as follows. Serodiscordance destabilizes 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.


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

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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