To both set an example and actually know how a test was conducted, a nearby volunteer, Adam, and I decided to go to the clinic to see what it was like to be tested for HIV here in rural South Africa. We are also organizing an event, where we plan on educating the villagers about the virus and felt a little hypocritical telling people to get tested, if we hadn’t been tested ourselves. This way we would know exactly what went on behind the closed door of the testing room.
So we walked into the clinic and asked about getting an HIV test (hopefully the villagers aren’t getting the wrong idea about us… one of our friends had already laughed that we were going to go Brokeback ~ a reference to movie where they are two gay cowboys). They were a bit surprised, perhaps by our openness to getting tested, or perhaps because they think it is a disease that wouldn’t affect the makgoa, the white men.
We waited around for a bit, as some of the staff were on a lunch break, and then we were ushered into a room where the counseling and testing was done. We explained what we were doing and that we would like to take pictures, and so, she told us, that was ok, though she seemed a little confused at our ease that another person would watch the test being administrated. We asked if we could use the pictures in publications- yes. So the pre-test counseling began. First did I know what HIV was and how it was transmitted? Yes, it was a virus that attacks the human immune system and is contracted through bodily fluids, such as blood, semen and breast-milk. Then came the questions that I hadn’t thought about before, how would I react to a positive result?
Um, wow. I hadn’t thought of this. I knew I was negative, but how would I react? I answered as best I could that I would be shocked, as I would have no clue where I would have contracted the virus. I would probably tell my family and friends and discuss my options with a doctor. Then I would, though probably haltingly, get on with my life.
It was then that the irrational fear crept in. How would I really react to a positive test? What if everyone had been wrong about me cutting myself with the knife? What if I was the first documented anomaly? The fear of the unknown was back. I was nervous.
Then it was time to sign the form saying that I had gone through the counseling. Ok not too bad. Why was I nervous? I really didn’t have anything to fear. At the same time, I realized that if I was going through this fear and I really had nothing to fear, I could only imagine what others who had engaged in more risky behaviors would be going through.
Then a few questions about my age, nationality (race), whether I had sex, and if I had sex did I use protection, and it was time for the test. Then we went through what the test would entail. A nurse, not the counselor, would come in to prick my finger. She told me to relax and asked me how I felt. I said nervous.
Ok done. A small prick. Not too bad. Like getting tested for iron before donating blood… though I have felt faint after that.
The mixture would travel up a strip in the test. If one line showed up near the end of the test, I was negative, if one showed up at the beginning of the strip and the end, I was positive. If I was positive, they would do another test. If that was positive, they would send out my blood for an ELISA (a very sensitive assay).
Now it was time to wait. Slowly the mixture advanced… this was agonizing. Seconds elapsed… why was I nervous? I couldn’t have gotten the virus. Unless there was something that scientists didn’t know? More seconds went by. Maybe a minute.
Adam was next. He was also nervous. We both had waived our privacy rights so we could document what happened. Time for me to take pictures.
We then went through post-testing counseling in which we were asked how we felt- relieved. Then a reminder on how to avoid contracting HIV and we were done.
The counselor took an interest in what we were doing and we are now working on a brochure explaining what happens during the test. The more people now about what will happen, the less they will fear.
Then it was off to a meeting at a local NGO about setting up our event, which is a tournament to encourage learners to make good life choices and bolster their confidence. We plan on hosting a soccer tournament between the primary schools and then having a healthy living celebration afterwards. Some speeches, traditional dancing, etc. Anyone that gets tested for HIV will receive a bracelet handmade by a women’s group (soon to be founded) in the village. We’re still hashing out the details, but our counterpart seems quite excited about it, as are we. Ok, more updates to come soon.