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J Sex Res. 2015;52(3):347-59. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2014.883590. Epub 2014 Mar 26.

The influence of relationship power dynamics on HIV testing in rural Malawi.

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a Center for AIDS Prevention Studies , University of California , San Francisco.


Using the theory of gender and power (TGP) and data from the Tsogolo la Thanzi (TLT) study, we examined how relationship power shapes young people's decisions to test for HIV in rural Malawi (N=932), a high-HIV prevalence setting undergoing rapid expansions in testing services. We used generalized estimating equations (GEE) to examine associations among five constructs of relationship power (socioeconomic inequalities, relationship dominance, relationship violence, relationship unity, and mistrust), perceived risk, and receiving an HIV test over a 16-month period. The results indicate that young Malawians are testing for HIV at relatively high rates, repeatedly, and not just during pregnancy. Over the study period, 47.3% of respondents received at least one HIV test outside of TLT (range: 0-4). The GEE analysis revealed that men and women with higher levels of relationship unity were less likely to test for HIV. For men, being a victim of sexual coercion was an additional barrier to testing. Women's testing decisions were more strongly influenced by perceptions of a partner's risk for HIV than their own, whereas men relied more on self-assessments. The results highlight that testing decisions are deeply embedded within the relationship context, which should be considered in future HIV testing interventions.

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