Dr Wilbroad Mutale (MD, MPhil, PhD)
It is a well known fact that Zambia is one of the countries with a high prevalence of HIV at 14%. While Zambia has made great strides to increase access to life saving drugs for HIV infected people, there still remain a lot of people who do not know their HIV status. This makes it very difficult to control the epidemic as those who might benefit from the available help and medication cannot access the services without first testing for HIV.
A person who does not know the HIV status also risks spreading infection to other people without taking precautionary measures. While stigma could be a reason why some people refuse to take an HIV test, the benefits out weigh all the risks!
In Bemba they say “Akansoni kafwillile mwibula”. Meaning you can lose your life unnecessarily when help is available.
Recent studies have shown that tackling the HIV pandemic at population level through what is known as Test and Treat, where everyone who tests positive is immediately put on treatment has become an acceptable approach to fight the pandemic. While this raises a lot practical challenges, the bottom line is that HIV elimination cannot occur until all who need to be on treatment are known and are actually commenced on treatment. The earlier this is done the better.
Individuals have to take responsibilities as your life can only be lived by yourself and we cannot expect others to live on our behalf. Many people no longer view HIV as a ‘death sentence’ because of the availability of ARVs in many public health facilities. So HIV has become like any other chronic illness. Therefore HIV testing should be viewed as a starting point to good life. If you are found to be negative, that should be a motivation to look after yourself so you remain negative. If you are found to be HIV positive that is not the worst news you can get. At least you are alive and treatment is now available. What is very disappointing for medical personnel are people who are still unaware of their HIV status and presenting very late, some even dying while help is waiting for them. This should not happen, but we still see this happening in our hospitals and homes.
Take your pick.
Fortunately there are several ways you could do an HIV test. You can access your HIV test at your local clinic or VCT centres. These services are available usually for free. Other options which have become available are home-based models where lay workers come in communities during special surveys or events (World AIDS day) to offer free HIV testing. Other testing methods which are being advocated are self testing where someone can access the test kits and test at home. You can talk to your pharmacist or doctor about this service and where you can access self-test kits.
This might sound like human rights violation but you will save so much heartaches and headaches. For the young people wishing to get married, this is a good time to go for an HIV test together. This builds a culture of responsibility at the beginning of a life long relationship. This simple act can protect you and your potential babies. At least know what you are getting into, you cannot put your head in the sand!
This might sound like you are putting your married or relationship on the chopping board. But the benefits are well documented. Remember it is possible now to protect your partner once one of you is HIV positive. The HIV negative partner can be put on ARVs or at least you can use other ways to prevent HIV transmission. Talk about this with your spouse or partner.
is time you took control of your life and protect your loved ones. Get tested and free your mind. Who knows, you might just save your life and that of your wife and children, through a simple act such as taking an HIV test!
Talk to Teledoctor if you have any questions about HIV testing or any other wellness question!