I don’t take these tests because I have a lot of fear that I’ve gotten sick. I take these tests because others are worried. I know I’ve mentioned HIV/AIDs several times before in blog posts, so I hate to sound like a broken record, but it is such a big part of life here that it’s impossible not to mention it. I remember when I first travelled to Africa. I went to Sierra Leone. At the time I didn’t know how prevalent HIV/AIDs was, but I knew it was more common that in the U.S. To put this in perspective, in the U.S. 0.6% of the population is positive. In Sierra Leone 1.6% of the population has HIV/AIDS. Here in Botswana the rate is 34.4%. Turns out that Sierra Leone was practically no risk at all compared to Botswana.
I never took an HIV/AIDs test until I moved to Africa. I’ve now taken four in less than a year. I took my first test the second week of school. I was coming out of the student union building on campus where there were tents set up for testing. I saw some of my students milling around, watching people get tested. I had a feeling they were trying to work up the courage to do it. I walked up to the two girls, said “hi” (they looked somewhat embarrassed because they knew that I knew what they were doing) and told them I was on my way to get my test. After filling out my paperwork and taking a seat in line, they joined me and decided to get tested themselves.
When I was in Uganda I took a boda boda tour. One of the stops on the tour was a Baha’i temple. While I was in the temple the driver stayed outside to chat with one of the workers there. When I emerged from the temple they were talking about HIV/AIDs. It turns out the temple worker was 21 years old and had been born with AIDS. The boda boda driver had never been tested and was scared to do it. I told him about a Peace Corps volunteer who had sex with someone ONCE and contracted HIV. I said it was better to get tested and know so that he could get treated, rather than let it get to a point where he was too sick to do anything about it. I offered to go with him to get tested. At the end of the tour we stopped at a clinic and both got tested. We were both negative.
I will be here in Africa for at least another four or five months. At the rate I’m going that means I will probably get tested two or three more times. I’m not a fan of needles, but I don’t hate them. And I’m more than happy to get pricked if it will encourage others to do the same.
Here is a copy of my Status Card, which they give you when you get tested. It’s actually a trifold card which you take with you each time you get tested so you can keep track of your status. They recommend you carry this with you everywhere, kind of like a library card, to remind you of the risk reduction plan which is always “safe sex, always”: