By Neema Atemi

The 2018 World AIDS Day theme dubbed: “Know your Status”, is geared towards encourages people to get tested for HIV and raise awareness to the public.

There are various reasons for knowing one’s status. Those found positive, would be encouraged to use condoms to reduce chances of infecting their sexual partners hence spread of the virus. Individuals would also be introduced to treatment that supress viral load and offered other nutritional health information.

More so, sexually active people are encouraged to test frequently just to keep their status up to date and incorporate health safety.

There is an estimated 184,718 of young people aged between 15 to 24, that are living with HIV (PLWHIV). These are mainly adolescents and youth who still face challenges of stigma and discrimination from community.

Phenny Awiti, a HIV activist, has been a victim of segregation from society after confirmation of her HIV positive status while only 16 years old.  She learned of her status during HIV awareness campaign in schools by a health organisation.

“Being an orphan and not knowing how I contracted HIV, I felt as though my life fell apart,” Awiti recalled.  I only confided the scary information to my best friend but a few days later, I discovered the whole school began whispering the secret hence stigmatised,” she explained.

At the time, 2008, HIV was synonymous to a taboo but Awiti took a step at revealing her true status to the school counsellor who then helped her contact her relatives. It was then that she learned that she got the virus from her late mother.

Awiti said it took her time to accept her status but after counselling and assurance from HIV experts, she began treatment.  The Anti-retroviral (ARVs) drugs have kept her going by suppressing the viral load and other opportunistic diseases.

“Many young men used to approach me for friendship, relationships but I told the truth of my HIV status. A few thought I was joking, a means of keeping them off however, as time went by they came to realize the truth,” Awiti disclosed.

“Knowing my HIV status early enough, stopped me from infecting my friends and others who admired me for sex. So I encourage everyone, especially young people to know their HIV status to stop spreading the scourge,” Awiti motivated youth.

Teenager testing for HIV

Accepting her status has made Awiti champion in the fight against HIV and now she shares her story widely to create awareness and encourage others in similar situation to bold.

Nowadays PLWHIV have access to free treatment hence can live longer as being HIV positive is not a death sentence. Again knowing one’s status makes it possible not to infect another person by taking health precautions and measures.

Again Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication prescribed for HIV negative people to prevent them from contracting the virus. PrEP is especially preferred for discordant couples, where one partners is negative and the other is positive.

So, PrEP has helped many discordant partners’ live normal lives and even has families without the risks of transmission.

There are instances where some stop taking the daily ARVs and only pick up again when they begin falling ill. The fear of isolation from friends and peers plays a part in this.

Sometimes students in boarding schools discontinue the use of ARVs during the three months of school and continue during school holidays.

This is because they fear their school mates will start asking the question, “Why does so and so always take medicine, and what is it for?” One other reason why they discontinue ARVs is because of the daily routine.

Like most people would quickly get tired of doing the same thing every day for the rest of their lives, PLWHIV sometimes feel the same way with ARVs and so they stop.

It is important that PLWHIV are given care, love and support while patients suffering from AIDS given care and comfort during their hardships. Many new safe options in fighting HIV have been developed t including means of eliminating HIV/AIDS stigmatisation in society.

After testing positive, one is immediately given ARVs to keep their health in check. Before the test, counselling is given in preparation for the outcome. After the test, counselling is given again if the outcome is positive. If it’s negative, the person being tested is given advice and tips on how to stay safe.

Like Phenny, most who find out that they are HIV positive go through the five stages of grief. There is denial stage, one may refuse to accept their status. They will then feel angry and this stage is quite dangerous because self-harm is bound to happen.

There are some who take it upon themselves to spread the virus intentionally to unsuspecting people.

The next stage is bargaining where they will look to the past regarding for things they should have done differently. They may also carry blame and resentment with them.

The fourth stage is depression when one may feel helpless and hopeless. At this point it is crucial for one to find help from a trusted person. There have and still are many cases of suicide due to the social constraints that comes with the virus.

The final stage is acceptance and one can only get there after acknowledge the reality. This however may be too late to help if the CD4 counts are high.

Surely the fight against HIV/AIDS to date has many achievements. Before then, it taunted the world close to 30 years. Many people succumbed to its effects while their loved ones left poor as a result of expensive hospital bills.

It was greatly misunderstood concept and some went as far as believing that it is a curse or punishment from higher powers upon those who had committed sins. This was so as the doctors had no clue to the virus that slowly deteriorates one’s bodily functions eventually leading to death.

In the early 1980s, doctors began gaining awareness to HIV/ AIDS. Rare cases of pneumonia, cancers and other illnesses were reported in large numbers and it was discovered to be more common among gay men.

Equipment for HIV test

It was also common among drug users that use injections. The condition was initially name Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). It was however renamed to what is now known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  Through scientific research, it was discovered to be caused by HIV which can be transmitted through contact with blood and sexual intercourse.

The build-up of discoveries made to date have so been slow over the years, and only few years ago are people able to find information on what HIV is and how to avoid it or manage it. The information on the matter is readily available to anyone and it has helped a great deal in reducing cases of transmission.

Nowadays, HIV positive mothers can give birth to HIV negative babies without worrying about passing the virus to the unborn baby.

Knowing one’s status can be devastating in terms of turning out HIV positive but ultimately it gives one the freedom to live their life. It helps in protecting and keeping prospective partners safe.