12th February 2018
Mr Kennedy Mupeli, is the AVAC Fellow at CEYOHO Source:The Midweek Sun

“Know Your HIV Status"

It was a bright winter morning in 1996 when I took my first HIV test. In those days, the HIV test results would take up to two weeks to be reported. After two weeks had passed, I returned to the facility and waited in the lobby to collect my results. Eventually, I was ushered into the counselling room where I was met with a broad smile from the counsellor. The walls of the counselling room were covered in HIV/AIDS posters. One of those posters that I still vividly remember depicted a man before and after he contracted HIV.

The “before” illustration showed a rather fat, healthy man while the “after” showed the same man with a very thin, sick, wasted body and a vulture hovering over his head, ready to devour him. In those days, HIV/AIDS messages took centre-stage in the media, though some like “AIDS kills” for example, actually inspired or reinforced common misconceptions about the disease. After a post-test counselling session, I was handed a sealed envelope and requested to open it and read the contents. With trembling hands, I tore open the envelope and clearly saw my result was HIV positive. Looking back, it is clear that taking an HIV test in that era, before ARVs were introduced in Botswana, was a scary, bold and difficult decision. For those of us who tested positive in the 90s, the only remedy was post-counselling sessions on positive living, emphasising a healthy diet.

The hospitals and clinics were overflowing with patients, and funerals became the order the day. Widespread myths about the virus left many confused about how to prevent infection. You may wonder, why did I choose to test, amid such horrific conditions? I decided to test out of fear, following the death of my two closest friends, with another friend displaying telltale AIDS symptoms. The modern HIV treatment that we have today was not even on the African horizon in 1996, but knowing my status seemed better to me than dwelling in ignorance.

I reasoned that avoiding the test would not make me HIV negative if I was already infected. I just wanted to know because that would at least relieve me of the agony of perpetually worrying if I had HIV. My diagnosis, although painful at first, became the inspiration for an incredible turnaround in my life. It led me to adjust my lifestyle and adopt a positive attitude. I wonder, if I had not taken that bold decision to test when I did, would I even be alive today? If you have never tested before, or it has been too long since you tested, then I strongly urge you to test today. With the Government’s adoption of the Treat All Strategy in June 2016, citizens are now able to begin treatment immediately following diagnosis with HIV.

In many cases, you can enroll on treatment the same day as your diagnosis. If you are HIV negative, it is still important to reduce your risk of acquiring HIV through the many prevention methods available today: condoms, regular STI screening and treatment, etc. This column is sponsored by the United States' President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

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