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Get tested

Published:Wednesday | June 27, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Contributor

It may not be widely known in Jamaica that today, June 27, has been designated National HIV Testing Day around the world.

And it is not unusual for persons to shrug a disinterested shoulder at the topic of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, perhaps out of fear or maybe in a bid to avoid the stigma that attaches to the virus.

But listen up: It is estimated that one in five persons in America is unaware of his or her HIV status. And many learn when it is much too late. What, I wonder, are the statistics for Jamaica, land of multiple babyfathers and babymothers? Do you know your HIV status? There is good reason to know one's HIV status - ignorance can be very costly.

Dreaded disease

Nearly 30 years on, HIV continues to be a most dreaded disease and still rages out of control in parts of Africa. It is also a significant health-care concern in our part of the world and there are scores of HIV-affected babies abandoned and uncared for to illustrate this point. But there is every indication that aggressive testing, early detection and treatment with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs could make the difference to a patient's lifespan.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just rolled out an innovative programme which it hopes will make HIV testing as routine as getting a blood-pressure check. Certain designated pharmacies in areas with high HIV population can now conduct the test.

Immediately, I began to wonder whether this could work in Jamaica. Obviously, this would have to be done discreetly so there would not be a sign saying, 'HIV test done here', as one can see persons recoiling at such a reference and totally avoiding the establishment.

And as Jamaicans tend to be quite nosy, it would not be unthinkable that persons would be interested in the HIV status of persons who did the test. Confidentiality would be an important issue here.

Ashamed

Recently, I observed a happily married colleague stocking up on condoms in a popular pharmacy. He seemed a tad embarrassed when he saw me standing in line right next to him. It didn't matter to me what his nocturnal activities might be; in fact, I believe he was making the correct decision by buying protection. However, he was totally embarrassed and has been avoiding me ever since that day. I hope he hasn't stopped buying his condoms, though.

I believe we could adopt the CDC idea because pharmacies are readily accessible to the average Jamaican. People may find it easier to browse around a pharmacy and get their HIV test done than to attend a clinic.

The more convenient the testing procedure is the more people will be given an opportunity to learn of their status. And this is a critical step in addressing the epidemic caused by this vicious virus.

Indeed, widespread testing may even remove the stigma.

Dennie Quill is a veteran media practitioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and denniequill@hotmail.com.