Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting tested

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~Anais Nin
Triple post day! Please don't forget to read 'em all ;)

So a big part of what we do in the community as volunteers is encourage people to get an HIV/AIDS test to find out what their status is.

During the past week while we were in Mombasa town for a cross-sector training, I got tested.

The act of getting tested itself can be particularly scary. I will try to the best of my recollection describe the testing procedure in this blog post.

Let's start at the beginning... (The cross sector workshop itself will be described in a different blog post)
During our cross-sector workshop we had the opportunity to attend the Mombasa Trade Show.
At the Trade Show, we had an opportunity to speak to representatives from the (Kenya) National Aids Control Council (NACC). NACC had a large booth at the fair. On one side, NACC had information about HIV/AIDS in Kenya providing detailed information about what NACC does in the country and their measures to help fight HIV/AIDS.

On the other side of the building where NACC had their booth, there was a station for blood donation as well as several small rooms set up for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.
In case you don't recall, in Kenya there are many many VCT centers (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) where people are able to find out their HIV status and also provide counseling services for people who are HIV positive and even advice as to how to convince your partner to get tested also.

Now, I had donated blood the week prior at the Agricultural Show of Kenya in Garissa before going to Mombasa for the cross-sector workshop so I was unable to donate blood on this particular occasion.

Instead, I chose to get tested. I figured it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to encourage other people to test without even knowing the testing process. So here goes:

I entered the VCT and upon entering I was asked what the purpose of my visit was. I said I would like to get tested. After a few minutes, a counselor was ready and took me to a private room which contained a small table and two chairs.
On the table there were several items including: alcohol wipes to clean the finger in preparation of withdrawing a few drops of blood for the test, small plastic lancettes used for pricking the finger, small plastic tubes used to collect the blood from the finger and then to place the drops of blood on the test, a box of rubber gloves that the counselor would use prior to drawing blood for the test, a bag of condoms on the table that are given away as a method of HIV/AIDS prevention, two different HIV tests and a paper form and a pen.
Underneath the table there was two cannisters: one for biohazard materials and another for garbage.

So it begins...

First of all, the counselor asked me some things to gage how much information about HIV transmission I know. The counselor asked me "how many ways can HIV/AIDS be transmitted?" To which I replied something along the lines of sharing needles, blood transfussion, unprotected sex, mother-to-child transmission. The counselor then continued to ask for some information to fill out the form. I think this is a good time to note that the testing process is anonymous - I think a large part of the information gathered is for the purpose of statistics.
So to fill out the form, the counselor asked me my age, my profession, education, the reason for testing, the number of sex partners in the past year (specifically the number of heterosexual sex partners and homosexual sex partners), the number of "one-night-stands", if I had been tested before - if so the results (positive/negative).

Following the information gathering phase, the counselor proceeded to explain how the test would proceed - first comes the blood withdrawl, then the blood is placed on a test, if the test is positive, a different test will be performed to confirm the first test. (It is my understanding that there are three different HIV tests which vary in cost and therefore the least expensive is used primarily and a second is used to confirm the first test).

The counselor begins by putting on gloves and geting the lancette ready for blood withdrawal. The lancette creates a miniscule puncture in the finger and therefore the counselor had to squeeze my finger to encourage the blood flow so that enough blood is drawn to perform the test.
The blood is collected into a small plastic tube that is then used to place the drops of blood on the test kit.

The waiting game begins...

The most challenging part of the test was waiting. The blood is placed on a test kit and a drop of a liquid solution was added (I didn't ask what was added to the blood). The liquid seeps into the test kit and by careful examination you can see how far the liquid has traveled on the test kit.

Waiting and waiting continues. During the wait, I recall the counselor asking what I would feel if the test was positive.

Now I think its important to clarify something with the perception of having HIV/AIDS. I think up until recently, I had this perception that once a person has HIV/AIDS they are living with a death sentence. As if merely having HIV means the person's life is over. In reality, it is possible for people to live full lives with medication.

Back to my test:
At first I thought "It would really suck if I tested positive. How would I have even gotten infected?" As the waiting game progressed, irrationall, I grew more and more concerned about the posibility of being possitive. I was especially concerned about what would happen in regards to my volunteering in Kenya.

After a little bit more waiting, the test results were finally ready.
The test showed one single line. The line looked like a minus sign and so I immediately thought I was negative on the basis that the line was a minus sign.

The counselor said I could look at my test. The counselor asked if I knew how to read the test and I said no. The counselor proceeded to explain that one line means negative and two lines means positive.
So it was that with a giant sigh of relief that I found out the results of my HIV test.
Having tested negative, the counselor and I discussed some things I can do to make sure that I remain negative.
Shortly thereafter, I was given a small yellow piece of paper that had some numbers (to provide anonimity) and a date three months in the future - which represents when I should be retested as I could be positive and be within the window in which it would not show on the test.
In three months, I will go take the test again. I can only imagine what I will be thinking/feeling at that time.

At least now I know what the process entails and I can gander how much more terrifying it can be for someone who has more of a reason to think they have contracted HIV.

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