Transitioning couple’s voluntary HIV counseling and testing (CVCT) from stand-alone weekend services into routine antenatal and VCT services in government clinics in Zambia’s two largest cities

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Introduction: Most HIV infections in Africa are acquired by married/cohabiting adults and WHO recommends couple’s voluntary HIV counseling and testing (CVCT) for prevention. The handover from NGO-sponsored weekend CVCT to government-sponsored services in routine weekday antenatal care (ANC) and individual voluntary testing and counseling (VCT) services in Zambia’s two largest cities from 2009–2015 is described. Methods: Government clinic counselors were trained to provide CVCT, and along with community health workers they promoted CVCT services in their clinic and surrounding areas. When client volume exceeded the capacity of on-duty staff in ANC and VCT, non-governmental organization (NGO) subsidies were offered for overtime pay. Results: Implementation of routine CVCT services varied greatly by clinic and city. The 12 highest volume clinics were examined further, while 13 clinics had CVCT numbers that were too low to warrant further investigation. In Lusaka, the proportion of pregnant women whose partners were tested rose from 2.6% in 2009 to a peak of 26.2% in 2012 and 24.8% in 2015. Corresponding reports in Ndola were 2.0% in 2009, 17.0% in 2012 and 14.5% in 2015. Obstacles to CVCT included: limited space and staffing, competing priorities, record keeping not adapted for couples, and few resources for promotion and increasing male involvement. Conflicting training models for ‘partner testing’ with men and women separately vs. CVCT with joint post-test counseling led to confusion in reporting to district health authorities. Discussion: A focused and sustained effort will be required to reach a meaningful number of couples with CVCT to prevent heterosexual and perinatal HIV transmission. Establishing targets and timelines, funding for dedicated and appropriately trained staff, adoption of standardized data recording instruments with couple-level indicators, and expansion of community and clinic-based promotions using proven models are recommended.