Voluntary counselling and testing - Why should we get tested for HIV?
- Should everyone know their HIV status?
- Why do some choose not to know?
Ideally, there are three steps that you go through if you decide to get tested for HIV - pre-counselling, testing, and post-test counselling.
Testing can be scary! It is difficult to face the fact that you have a life-threatening illness that could lead to discrimination, stigma and rejection. The problem is that if you start worrying about the possibility of being HIV-positive, that worry won't go away. It is going to stay with you. Some people say that they have been worrying about being HIV-positive for more than five years.
So, why should we get tested? First and foremost, VCT normalises HIV - if more people get tested, testing becomes normal and will decrease stigma. If you know your HIV status, you can gain access to healthcare for treatment or prevention of HIV-related illnesses sooner. Someone who does not know their status may allow opportunistic infections to progress to such an advanced stage that it is too late to do much about them.
So, taking all the advantages into account, it is much better to know whether you are infected as early as possible, rather than waiting until the disease has progressed to a point where treatment options are limited.
Another advantage of knowing is that you can change your lifestyle so that you do not put other people at risk. Being scared of being tested will not make up for the guilt feelings you may have later if you know that you infected others, including people that you love dearly, such as your wife and children.
Vulnerability assessment: Before we proceed further however, it is important to understand the difference between vulnerability and risk. Vulnerability has to do with you as a person and your situation; for example, the fact that you are a woman or the socio-economic class you are a part of. Risk has to do with the choices you make; for example, to visit a sex worker, or to inject drugs.
Let's take a look at our own vulnerability assessment. This is not a scientific assessment - it is only a tool that will sensitise you to issues that might indicate vulnerability to an HIV infection. The more answered 'yes' to the following questions, the more vulnerable you are to being exposed to an HIV infection:
- Are you human?
- Are you currently married?
- Have you ever had sex?
- Have you had children?
- Have you ever had a sexually transmitted infection?
- Have you ever had an operation?
- Have you ever had blood transfusion?
- Have you ever injected drugs?
- Have you ever travelled away from your long-term sexual partner (spouse) for more than two weeks?
PLEASE NOTE: This is only an indication of vulnerability, not an actual test. Most people have had situations in their lives during which they could have been exposed to HIV, resulting in possible infection. GET TESTED!
- Jendy McDonald is an AIDS educator with Positive Impact Ministries and a 'Channel of Hope' facilitator with AIDS Link International, South Africa. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com