By Julius Businge
Five reasons why taking that HIV test is long overdue
On Nov. 8, President Yoweri Museveni took an HIV test at Kiswa Health Center IV in Bugolobi before the glare of cameras in gesture he believes would re-energize the fight against the disease by curbing new infections. Indeed, the president and his wife Janet were supposed to have the test as a couple but Janet got sick and failed to turn up.
Health experts concur with the President that the public would emulate his example. The objective of the public HIV counseling and testing was to demonstrate to all Ugandans the importance of knowing their HIV status as an action towards an HIV-free generation.
Museveni was tested, counseled and may be got his results moments later. He was counseled by Dr. Diana Atwiine his personal physician, before his blood sample was taken for official testing – a process that took only five minutes.
Museveni told the audience and waiting journalists that it is good to test for the virus to help the government plan better and to facilitate care and treatment for those who are infected, an observation that Alice Kayongo from AIDS Healthcare Foundation Uganda, one of the country’s largest providers of AIDS treatment, prevention and support services, concurs with.
“Obviously it will yield results and I won’t be surprised to hear that the number of those testing for HIV has increased in the coming days,” she said. “What the president did is one of the most effective ways of attracting people to test.”
Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, the executive director at Joint Clinical Research Centre on AIDS (JCRC), told The Independent on Nov. 9 that when a high profile person like the President appears in the public to test for HIV, that alone is enough to encourage others to do the same.
“Those who thought that testing for HIV is only for the poor are wrong because the President has done it,” Dr. Mugyenyi added. He said stigma is still the main challenge in the fight against HIV in the country and world over. “We need to break it,” he said, “I think the president did a good thing.” He said the crisis of HIV is not over and that there is a great need for Ugandans to remain vigilant.
He said many people fear to test because they think being found HIV positive is tantamount to death, which is no longer the case. Others fear to leave behind their families and relatives, yet knowing one’s status is best way to show that you care about them.
Experts say such gestures are more influential than the controversial HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, which among other things is supposed to ensure that there is mandatory HIV testing of all Ugandans as a way of curbing HIV infection rates in the country. Indeed, some activists are opposed to the bill saying it is a violation of human rights.
“I think there are several ways we can use to encourage people to test apart from making it a legal issue,” Kayongo said, adding that forcing someone to test is not right. Other clauses in the bill include; disclosure of one’s HIV status to third parties, discretion by medical personnel to disclose one’s HIV status to one’s sex partner, and the criminalization of intentional and attempted transmission of HIV/Aids.
Government data indicate that in recent years, the country’s HIV prevalence rate has increased to 7.3% from 6.4% in 2005. According to the 2011 National HIV Indicator Survey, the number of new infections rose from 124,000 in 2009 to 128,000 in 2010 and to about 145,000 in 2011. Experts say the benefits of counseling and testing for HIV are countless.
First, people who have tested are less likely to get infected and less likely to infect others including unborn babies. Also, testing for HIV together as a couple helps a couple to support each other, and if one is HIV positive and another is negative, the negative person will be assisted to remain negative.
In addition to HIV counseling and testing, experts say other HIV prevention methods are critical to reducing the spread of HIV, including; delaying first sex, abstinence, being faithful, correct and consistent condom use, voluntary counseling and testing, testing for HIV when pregnant to eliminate mother-to-child transmission, safe male circumcision, and antiretroviral therapy to reduce new HIV infections.
Dr. Mugyenyi insisted that HIV testing and counseling campaigns have to run from time to time to avoid a decline in the number of those showing up for the exercise. “That way we will be able to manage the fight,” he said.
Five reasons to take an HIV test
HIV testing is the key to slowing the HIV epidemic. Knowing your HIV status could be one of the most important things you do. Diagnosing HIV early in the disease course improves your prognosis. There are other reasons why HIV testing is beneficial. Here are my top five.
- Early intervention means a healthier life. The key to living a healthy life with HIV is being diagnosed early. Getting into the care of HIV specialists is an essential part of staying healthy. Get tested and if you are positive, the HIV specialists will help you live longer.
- Knowing your status protects you, your partner and the community at large. Knowing your status allows you to protect your sexual partners as well as yourself by avoiding risky behaviour.
- Knowing your status allows you to make informed decisions regarding your future and your life. Knowing you are HIV positive allows you to take steps to protect your unborn baby and to plan better for your family by focusing on the most important things. For instance it could help you to avoid smoking, drinking too much alcohol, or using illegal drugs, which weaken your immune system even further.
- Knowing your body is an important part of living a healthy life. It can help to alleviate the perpetual stress and anxiety of thinking that you may be infected. Get tested for HIV and if you are positive ask the right questions about your life, your future and your family.
- Know your status…get the most from your health worker. When you’re not feeling well, your doctor will be better able to treat you if he/she has all the facts. If he knows your status, he can address the special needs your HIV status demands.