On Monday, I went for my first ever HIV test. It wasn't because I had done anything that put me at risk, but I've been working in the field of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention since August, and I've felt like a hypocrit because I didn't know my HIV status.
The voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centre is about a minute's walk away from where I work. My roommate Graham and I arrived around 7:30am to beat the rush. There were a couple of people ahead of us, but it only took about half an hour before it was our turn to get tested. In Botswana, they use rapid-result testing (it has only recently been approved in Canada), which detects a certain antibody associated with HIV, and results are found within 15 minutes. Although I knew that I had to be HIV negative, I was still a little bit nervous.
I couldn't help thinking about all the times I've cut myself here, or played with all the kids in my neighbourhood who seem to always have scrapes and scratches. I have, and promote, all the information that says transmission is virtually impossible through those means, but for some reason I couldn't help wondering if maybe I was going to be the exception to the rule. After the wait, I looked at the results and found that, as expected, I'm HIV negative. Although I knew what the results would be, I was still relieved to actually see them.
Then I started to think. If I had actually been worried that I might be HIV positive, would I have had the strength to go and get tested? I'd like to say that I would, but it would definitely be difficult. I looked around the lobby at the people waiting to be tested. How many of them were getting a routine check, and how many had come to see the repercussions of a one night stand or broken condom? I'm not trying to justify people that don't get tested, but imagine how hard it would be to have your whole life turned upside down, and in most cases drastically shortened, because of an accident or mistake?
I have tremendous respect for those people who have made mistakes and are still brave enough to be tested. I've already written that most of the work now being done is on prevention and behavioural change. What has been lacking, and I'll be the first to admit it, is a way to recognize the people who have been tested, found out that they're positive, and ensured that they would not infect anyone else. These people help work towards prevention, by indirectly stopping countless other infections. Of course, with confidentiality being paramount with regards to HIV testing, their names couldn't be posted in the paper or anything. At the same time, it is important to think of these anonymous people and realize that they are working as hard as anyone to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.