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Benefits of HIV testing outweigh risks; get to know your status

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By GLADYS BURINI
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You only get one body and one life. To what lengths would you go to protect them from harm?

Today we mark 30 years since the inception of World Aids Day with the renewed call to action, “Know your HIV status”. There is a stigma and fear instilled in society to cower away from knowing their HIV status lest they become shunned.

This stifling fear is still amongst us and at present 9.4 million people around the world are living with HIV and don’t know their status.

Some might be put off by the fear of testing positive, while to others HIV may be unbeknown to them.

But what good does fear do if we hide behind a shadow of what may or may not be true? Wouldn’t you rather “live life positively” without being caged by fear and turmoil of the unknown?

Even more sensibly, by knowing your HIV status you are saving your life. It can also no longer be said those who test positive are the greater beneficiaries.

The same can be said for those who test negative as it goes to inform their sexual health.

The continued steps to staying HIV-free progresses from here with a confirmed test that offers preventive options.

Of vital value is that should you test positive, knowing your HIV status allows you to start treatment as early as possible, ensuring you live a long and healthy life.

More pertinent to the day is the great strides we have made with anti-retroviral treatment which suppresses HIV to the point where it is undetectable in the blood.

It goes without saying this is subject to following the prescribed medication; if treatment is stopped, the virus will re-emerge from reservoirs in the body.

With such encouraging medical news of our generation, is there still much to fear from knowing your HIV status?

If anything, knowing your status paves the way for you to stay alive and well. Tuberculosis remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, accounting for around one in three Aids-related deaths.

According to UNAIDS, globally in 2016, 1.2 million people living with HIV developed TB.

People living with HIV with no TB symptoms need preventative therapy, to lessen the risk of developing TB, which then significantly reduces TB/HIV death rates by around 40 percent.

It is estimated that 49 percent of people living with HIV and tuberculosis are unaware of their coinfection and are therefore not receiving care.

Without knowing your HIV status, how would you go about managing your health as medically required? It cannot be over-emphasised the importance of knowing your HIV status.

Nevertheless, no matter how much it is humdrum time, generation after generation, knowing your HIV status remains your choice.

Coercion, undue influence and threats should not under any circumstances be used to force people to take a HIV test against their will.

No matter the gravitas of HIV and the benefits of knowing your HIV status outweighing the risks, it cannot be forced up.

We remain the custodians of our bodies and we should still be expected to give or withdraw consent to the HIV test like other medical tests.

Chiefly, only the recipient of the HIV test bears the true implications of their results.

Of even greater note, should you be informed of another’s HIV status, especially in instances where the person with HIV has confided in you, consider it a great privilege.

It takes admirable courage to be a party to their disclosure, entrusted with great belief and unspoken outmost discretion.

This is not your HIV status to disclose. The excuse that confidentiality is broken because they a family member, a child or the HIV is now undetectable doesn’t wash.

Empathise, what if it was your HIV status? While discretion is paramount, open discussions on HIV remain a key pillar to preventing the spread of the disease.

With the increase in teenage pregnancies, it is obvious a crucial protective measure of barring the spread of HIV has gone amiss.

It is now of great concern how effectively we are educating children on HIV, the risks of those girls contracting it and their current HIV status.

In the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act, a person who is and is aware of being infected or carrying HIV shall not, knowingly and recklessly, place another at risk of being infected with HIV unless the person knew that fact and voluntarily accepted the risk of being infected.

Contravening the provision is an offence liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years, or both.

As the ODPP investigation on teenage pregnancies progresses, lest it be forgotten, the crime of transmission of HIV should also hold applicable fathers to account.

Know your HIV status, save your life!

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