Monday, November 3, 2008

I got tested!

Sorry if this post is a bit TMI (too much info) or too personal for some peeps. I just thought it was a neat experience, some good info to share and something to encourage others to do.

I got HIV tested today and (yay!) I'm negative. I got tested even though I practice abstinence just because:
  1. The guy doing the testing looked really, really bored since no one was there
  2. I was curious to see how HIV testing and counseling is done
  3. I was curious to learn more about HIV and AIDS
So this traveling clinic set up a tent (no, really an actual camping tent) on the 2nd floor balcony for these tests. Initially I thought people just wanted to camp there (I'm now used to having anything happen!). I think I cut out a lot of the material to be discussed since I plan on abstaining until marriage so we didn't really get into the whole "previous experience" topics. But I did learn that:
  1. If 2 parents are positive, it doesn't necessarily mean the child will be positive too. Children can only get it upon birth or if the mother passes it through breast feeding the baby.
  2. HIV positive couples are still encouraged to use condoms to prevent re-infection since they can have different strands.
  3. Sexually active people are encouraged to get tested again after 3 months from their last intercourse.
So the experience went like this: I first signed a consent form to be tested. Then, he pricked my finger to get a blood sample. He actually had to squeeze what I felt was quite a bit of blood from my finger (that, and I'm also a baby with needles). While waiting for the results, we talked about ways of prevention. I also learned how to use a male and female condom. Now that was interesting! (And yes, we got to use the little private part wooden models). Just from my work though, I have seen that in Kenya, males are far less inclined to get tested (about half the number of women who get tested). Many reasons contribute to this: fear of knowing the results, women have "more of an opportunity" since they can be tested while attending antenatal care when pregnant or go during the day since they're usually home-bound taking care of the family, cultural/tribal attitudes towards it, etc. Plus, more women also attend HIV/AIDs related outreaches and other health education seminars. Unfortunately, there are still some very bad cases of stigma in the remote areas we visited in Eastern North Kenya. People still talk to HIV/AIDS patients through handkerchiefs since they're afraid of contracting it through the air. People are also outcasted in some areas if they are known to have HIV/AIDS. Misconceptions are also common. Some refuse ARV treatment since patients hear that the treatment can kill you; whereas in fact, the deaths are often because the patients can't afford good food (if any food at all) to sustain them through the physically taxing treatment phase. Or because of poor nutrition, they die due to other illnesses in their weakened state. So many of these issues we hear on TV or in the papers in the States take on a different light when you see it for yourself in person. No longer is it a distant problem that can be easily forgotten by a mere click of the remote or flip of the page but rather someone you're staring at right in front of you. And although beforehand I'd think the (easy) answer would be to say "Well, go educate those people on the truth about HIV/AIDS" but now I clearly see that its not so easy especially when you have to travel endless hours to some places in the desert and the harshest terrains, there are no roads to these places, you're trying to create behavioral change in people ingrained with hundreds of years of a certain belief and culture, language barriers, lack of food and water to sustain them through treatment, etc., etc., etc. So the problem becomes rather complicated. Historically speaking though, Kenya has done a really good job in reducing the HIV/AIDS rate since the early 90's when about 13%-14% of the population was infected. By early 2000, the rate had dropped almost in half to around 7% since the government initiated a national plan to address the rising issue. However, since the post-election violence, the rate has started climbed again so the need for HIV/AIDS prevention is more important than ever to reduce the rate before it regresses back to its initial state. But basically the whole purpose of this post is to encourage others to get tested and to hopefully open our eyes to this very real and serious issue not just in Kenya but in the world.


Alvar said...

Very intersting stuff Elisa. I definitely did not know the part about the two positive parents still would have the possibility of passing HIV to the child.

Makes you think that the woman's body is amazing, isn't it? Even though she may have HIV, that body can still carry the baby and not pass on the virus. Of course correct me if I'm wrong but the mother would have to have a C-section too.

Well take care and keep'em coming!

Chen said...

congrats on being tested! Lead by example :)