HIV counseling and testing: step by step
February 16, 2007

HIV counseling and testing: step by step

The hardest part of taking an HIV test is deciding to do so.

When I decided to volunteer to take a test this Monday it was mainly out of curiosity, but that soon changed to anxiety after realizing I wasn’t as sure about myself as

I thought.

To help me through the process, the National Aids Secretariat (NAS) provided counseling as they do for everyone. It’s a one on one chat with a counselor who took me through the stages of the test. My counselor was Serna Samuel, a former schoolteacher turned health worker, who has been with the secretariat for five of its eight years.{{more}}

The session began with Mrs. Samuel introducing herself to me and giving me an overview of the procedure. She assured me that whatever was discussed in her office was completely private and confidential.

We then went to the most uncomfortable part of the session.

In order to assess my risk of being infected, my counselor had to ask some very personal questions: What’s my sexual orientation? Which by the way is heterosexual; how many sex partners, why do I think I might be at risk; when do I think I might have put myself at risk, how many times, and condom use to name a few.

At this point I realized it pays to be honest with myself and with my counselor. This is important to determine what my risk level might be and how to proceed.

If I am NOT HIV positive, would my life style change? What would I do to make sure that I reduce my chances of becoming HIV positive? What if I AM? How would I change? Would I tell? Who would I tell? What steps would I take to prevent myself from getting re-infected or to prevent others from getting infected by me?

Twenty one questions and more!

The next phase of the counseling is trying to help me deal with the possibilities, all in an effort to reduce risks regardless of the result.

Being HIV positive is not the end of the world, my counselor told me. Adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and proper medication can prolong life and keep the virus at a low level, but to do this it is important to keep my risk at a minimum – IF that is the case.

Mrs. Samuel then explained the actual test that I was about to take. I filled out a yellow form, giving basic medical and health information, such as have I had (a) any recent weight loss, (b) consistent coughing, (c) fever, (d) skin rash etc.

I then took the form to the lab at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in order to get blood drawn.

It is important to note that this form did not have my name on it. A simple code is what I would be referred to as from then on. The only person who knew my code was my counselor and myself.

At the lab, I presented the form to the attendant. After that I was escorted to a room where the blood was drawn and labeled with my code. From there it is taken for testing and re testing. In a few days I will know the result.

The waiting period could be tough for a person who thinks his chance of being HIV positive is great. For others it could be less stressful. For me, as long as I kept my mind and body occupied the days passed.

Fortunately, with the new Rapid Result Testing (RRT) coming along soon, and also the eight new testing sites, volunteers can have their tests done close to home if they choose and will know the result in as fast as half an hour.

Counselors will be on hand to talk to the volunteers, and guide them through the process.

There’s no telling if their wait would be any less agonizing.

When the results are in, I would receive a call from Mrs. Samuel. The results are not given over the phone as some anxious persons would like. I would return to the secretariat where I would be given the information.

Regardless of the result, counseling is necessary and a test is recommended at least three months after the first test.

One of the greatest concerns of a person taking an HIV test is the issue of privacy. The NAS and other persons involved in the testing process are assuring possible volunteers that their information and result are being treated with the utmost secrecy; the person filling the application is different to the one taking the blood or the individual testing the samples.

The secretariat is encouraging persons wishing to take an HIV test to do so, and to trust the team that has been assembled for their benefit.

I would recommend persons who believe they are at risk to get tested. It takes just about an hour from start to end, and with the advent of the RRT it should take less time and become less stressful.

I agree with the NAS that all parties involved in a relationship get tested, not just one person. According to Mrs. Samuel, because one person tests negative for the HIV virus, that does not mean that their partner is also safe.

I would also recommend that persons who refuse to get tested should take whatever necessary precautions, to reduce the risks of them getting infected or infecting others.

As for me my results are due back today. Whatever the outcome I would be more than willing to share it with our readers, in the hope that it would encourage others to get tested. And of course persons who would like to know can get the answer ONLY in the Searchlight.