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Background: The most common form of HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa is heterosexual sex between two partners. While most HIV prevention interventions are aimed at the individual, there is mounting evidence of the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of dyadic interventions. However, the mechanisms through which dyadic-level interventions achieve success remain little explored. We address this gap by using Lewis et al's interdependence model of couple communal coping and behaviour change to analyse data from partners participating in an HIV prevention trial in Uganda and Zambia. Methods and Findings: We conducted a comparative qualitative study using in-depth interviews. Thirty-three interviews were conducted in total; ten with couples and twenty-three with staff members at the two sites. The Ugandan site recruited a sero-discordant couple cohort and the Zambian site recruited women alone. Spouses' transformation of motivation is strong where couples are recruited and both partners stand to gain considerably by participating in the research; it is weaker where this is not the case. As such, coping mechanisms differ in the two sites; among sero-discordant couples in Uganda, communal coping is evidenced through joint consent to participate, regular couple counselling and workshops, sharing of HIV test results, and strong spousal support for adherence and retention. By contrast, coping at the Zambian site is predominantly left to the individual woman and occurs against a backdrop of mutual mistrust and male disenfranchisement. We discuss these findings in light of practical and ethical considerations of recruiting couples to HIV research. Conclusions: We argue for the need to consider the broader context within which behaviour change occurs and propose that future dyadic research be situated within the framework of the 'risk environment'. © 2012 Montgomery et al.

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