Impact of Inter-Partner HIV Disclosure Patterns in Malawi’s PMTCT Program: A Mixed-Method Study

Impact of Inter-Partner HIV Disclosure Patterns in Malawi’s PMTCT Program: A Mixed-Method Study

By: Monique van Lettow, Fabian Cataldo, Megan Landes, Florence Kasende, Pearson Nkhoma, Joep J. van Oosterhout, Evelyn Kim, Erik Schouten, Ernest Nkhoma, Rose Nyirenda, Beth A. Tippett Barr
Publication: PLoS One 2019; Vol. 14, No. 7: e0219967. DOI:



Evidence suggests that disclosure of HIV status between partners may influence prevention of maternal-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) outcomes. We report partner disclosure in relation to maternal antiretroviral therapy (ART) uptake and adherence, and MTCT among postpartum HIV-infected Malawian women.


A cross-sectional mixed-method study was conducted as part of a nationally representative longitudinal cohort study. Between 2014–2016, all (34,637) mothers attending 54 under-5 clinics with their 4–26 week-old infants were approached, of which 98% (33,980) were screened for HIV; infants received HIV-1 DNA testing. HIV-exposure was confirmed in 3,566/33,980 (10.5%). Baseline data from mothers who were known to be HIV-infected at time of screening were included in the current analysis. Guardians (n = 17), newly diagnosed HIV-infected mothers (n = 256) and mothers or infants with undetermined HIV status (n = 30) were excluded. Data collected included socio-demographics, partner disclosure, maternal ART uptake, and adherence. Between 2016–2017, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with adult mothers (n = 53) and their spouse/cohabiting partners (n = 19), adolescent mothers (n = 13), lost-to-follow up (LTFU) mothers (n = 22), community leaders (n = 23) and healthcare workers (n = 154).


Of 3153 known HIV-infected mothers, 2882 (91.4%) reported having a spouse/cohabiting partner. Among 2882 couples, both partners, one partner, and neither partner disclosed to each other in 2090 (72.5%), 622 (21.6%), and 169 (5.9%), respectively. In multivariable models, neither partner disclosing was associated with no maternal ART (aOR 4.7; 95%CI 2.5–8.8), suboptimal treatment adherence (aOR 1.8; 95%CI 1.1–2.8) and MTCT (aOR 2.1; 95%CI 1.1–4.1). Women’s fear of blame by partners was central to decisions not to disclose within couples and when starting new relationships. LTFU mothers struggled to accept and disclose their status, hindering treatment initiation; some were unable to hide ART and feared involuntary disclosure.


Partner disclosure seems to play an important role in women’s decisions regarding ART initiation and adherence. Inter-partner non-disclosure was associated with no ART uptake, suboptimal treatment adherence and MTCT.