February 23, 2007
HIV results not end of story

Part 2 – Counseling and Testing – after the test what?

The result is in. I got a call from my counselor Mrs. Serna Samuel to return to the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS) for post testing counseling and to know my status.

Mrs. Samuel reminded me that the session and result were kept in the strictest confidentiality.{{more}}

In the event of an HIV positive result however, the only persons informed about my status would be doctors, nurses, nutritionists and counselors – in other words persons who would be able to help me deal with the situation in a positive way (no pun intended).

We first confirmed the code on that yellow sheet was the same that I was given. Then the form was handed to me:

My result was NON REACTIVE or HIV NEGATIVE. Yeah !

My counselor asked me if I understood the result, what the result meant to me and how I felt.

It was a feeling of relief, although I was not surprised at the result, but it was good to see the result on paper. It is recommended that a follow up test be done in three months.

Risk reduction plan – staying HIV Negative

My counselor and I now had the task of making a Risk Reduction Plan. This outlines ways to keep myself free of the HIV virus.

The plan outlines a number of choices a person must consciously make to stay HIV free, it includes talking to partner(s), friends and others about HIV concerns and risks. It also deals with risk reduction measures, like eliminating high risk partners, having fewer partners or not having a particular type of sex partner.

A volunteer can also choose to abstain from sex, remain faithful to one partner or get to know partner(s) better before having sex.

Drug and alcohol users can also reduce their risks by avoid sharing needles, avoiding places where they use alcohol and drugs and eliminate alcohol or drug use before having sex.

Of course talking to one’s partner about and using condoms is another option.

The counselor will call every now and then to make sure that I am sticking to the plan. She encourages persons to talk to partners, and would often role play with the volunteer if he or she may have difficulty talking to their partner.

An HIV Positive result

According to Mrs. Samuel, counseling an HIV POSITIVE person takes a little longer and is usually harder to for both counselor and client.

The counselor needs to be more sensitive since they are about to relay what can be called a death sentence. It is usually an emotional time for her as well.

Upon receiving the result, a person can become very traumatic and emotional, usually lamenting about death, their children, their family.

It is the duty of the counselor to instill some hope in the client as an HIV POSITIVE result does not mean that they have AIDS.

The counselor will ask the same questions after informing the client about the result, and also find out who is going to be supportive of them. It is usually difficult for persons just finding out that they are HIV POSITIVE to talk to who they assume might show them support.

Stigma and discrimination is also an obstacle which prevents persons from disclosing that they are HIV POSITIVE, but counselors can accompany a client to talk to persons who they think may be supportive or even their partner.

At this point the counselor will inform the client of the health care services available, and the confidentiality clause is now extended to the health care providers, who will closely monitor clients and continue testing and counseling and receive medication.

Risk reduction

The treatment of an HIV POSITIVE person is an ongoing process, and persons also have to choose how they will reduce the risks of re-infecting themselves or infecting others.

Condom use or abstaining from sex, talking to partner(s), little or no alcohol and drug use and needle sharing are ways to keep the risks at a minimum. All of the above is recommended.

Volunteer Counseling and Testing

The Secretariat is hoping that their (VCT) drive will encourage more persons to get themselves and partners tested, and with the soon to be introduced Rapid Result Testing at eight sites, persons can turn out in their areas to know their status within minutes.

Finding out one’s status is just the beginning, staying HIV free, educating oneself and talking to others about taking the test is just as important.

According to Mrs. Samuel who is a newly ordained Methodist minister, AIDS brings us face to face with our own mortality, and one HIV POSITIVE person is one too many. This is a situation that not only affects the individual but also the community, nation and human race as a whole.

Knowing your status and

keeping it a secret is the choice of the individual, but making people aware of the situation whether negative or positive can help to close the gap of discrimination that surrounds the disease and reduce the risk of more people becoming HIV POSITIVE.

Some facts

259 persons attended counseling sessions at the Secretariat last year (2006)

250 took the HIV test (nine persons refused, they were afraid to know their status).

8 persons tested positive for HIV.

Most volunteers come to take the test because they believe they may have put themselves at risk, usually when they find out their partner was unfaithful.

Most volunteers were female.