If you live in sub-Saharan Africa, taking a HIV test can be one of the most nerve-racking things to do. Especially if you are sexually active and/or you recently had a sexual encounter without protection. It’s even worse if you have multiple sexual partners. According to latest statistics, 1.5 million people are living with HIV in Kenya today. That means one out of every thirty people could be infected with the deadly virus. The prevalence rate has decreased in recent years but the risk is still significantly high.
The stigma that comes with HIV/AIDS is terrifying. Testing positive for the killer virus is considered a death sentence, a passport to the grave. There is no known cure for the disease. Once you know you are HIV positive, you become a walking corpse, a living dead man. This is despite the availability of anti-retroviral drugs which can prolong your life. Going for that 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 hundreds of thousands perish each year from HIV/AIDS related complications on the continent, hundreds more are infected every day. That’s right; when some chap is taking his last deep breath on his death bed, another one is moaning in passion on a love bed as the virus creeps into his veins.
The latter will not know what has hit him until he sees the double red line on the HIV testing kit several months or years later. Tiny beads of sweat will form on his nose and forehead as he stares at it unbelievingly. He will tremble as his heart pounds faster than his strokes on that fateful night. He will not say a word. He will probably reject the result and go for another test to confirm his fate.
Forget Nyayo House, Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centers (VCTs) are the real torture chambers. First of all, is it just me or do those VCT attendants look creepy? With all due respect, I always fear that one can be infected at the VCT either accidentally or intentionally. I know that sounds stupid but I just have that lingering paranoia. It takes so much courage to go for a test, especially if you live in Africa, you are sexually active and your body count is a double digit. It is nerve-racking.
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? And they go on and on..
Pffff! It’s a big sigh of relief when you are done answering all those questions. All you wanted to know is your bloody HIV status but you are made to confess all your sins to that creepy looking lady sitting behind that big old 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 to the testing kit which is basically a narrow tube attached to some card. After a few minutes, you can see the outcome of the test. 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 perhaps you recently kicked it with a random human without wrapping it, and you don’t know her status. And you suspect her ways are not straight. Or maybe it burst. Or you are just a nervous wreck. 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 then, with your eyes wide open and your poor heart in your mouth, you timidly glance at the damn thing lying in front of you. Do you see one or two red stripes?