Very few things are as scary as taking a HIV test. Going for that test is a bold move in itself. It takes a lot of courage because testing positive for the deadly virus is considered a death sentence or a passport to the grave. Once you know you are HIV positive, you become a walking corpse, a living dead. Taking the dreaded test is therefore akin to finding out whether you will live or die.
You can of course live for many years with the virus but the stigma that comes with it is so much that most people die prematurely. As thousands perish each year of HIV/AIDS complications on the continent, hundreds more are infected every day. That’s right, when some emaciated chap is somewhere breathing his last, another one is breathing heavily as the virus creeps into his arteries.
The latter will not know what has hit him until he sees the double line on his HIV testing kit several months or years later. Tiny beads of sweat will form on his forehead as he stares at it disbelievingly. His heart will pound faster than Vivian Cheruiyot’s at the 10,000m race finish line. He will probably reject it and go for another test to confirm his fate.
Forget Nyayo House, Voluntary Counseling and
Torture Testing Centers (VCT) are the real torture chambers. First of all, is it just me or do those VCT attendants look like victims themselves? With all due respect, I always fear that one can be infected at the VCT either accidentally or intentionally. I know they are professionals but I just have that lingering paranoia. This is why home testing kits should be made more available. Well…
The most distressing part is when they ask you all manner of personal questions. The interrogation ranges from a million questions about your sex life to your morality. Are you sexually active Mr X? Do you know your HIV status sir? Why have you come for the test please? How many sexual partners do you have? When did you last have a test? What was the result? Do you know how HIV is transmitted? Do you use protection? Have you had sex lately without protection? Are you married sir? Do you know your partner’s status? What do you expect your status to be? Why do… Etc…
Pffff! It’s a big sigh of relief when you are done answering all those questions. All you want to know is your bloody HIV status but you are made to confess all your sins to that strange looking lady sitting behind that crowded desk. She then goes ahead to re-educate you about everything you probably know about HIV/AIDS. “If you happen to be positive, it’s not the end of the world. You can still live a healthy life like a normal person provided you take anti-retroviral drugs……..blah blah blah.”
She pricks your finger, draws some blood and then dabs it with a piece of cotton wool. She then transfers the blood sample to the testing kit which is basically a paper stick with some chemical attached to a card. After a few minutes, you can see the results of the test yourself. She tells you that one stripe will denote HIV- while two stripes will indicate HIV +.
Those few minutes of waiting can be the longest minutes ever especially if you have not been exactly celibate. Or if you recently tapped it with a random human without wrapping it. Or maybe it burst. Or you are just nervous. Or careless. You hold your breath, cross your fingers, tighten your anus and say a prayer. You ask God to help make the result negative. You close your eyes and bow your face as if that will change anything.
“You can now look at your result. What do you see?” she says looking at you straight in the eye. You study her shifty body language first, not sure what to make of it. Then with your eyes wide open and your poor heart in your mouth, trembling slightly, you timidly stare at the damn thing lying in front of you like it is an explosive device..