Knowledge Is Power…Especially in Healthcare
You can’t treat something you don’t know you have.
So if you knew you might have a disease, you’d want to be sure so that you could take steps to make yourself healthy…wouldn’t you?
I would. I hope you would too.
When the disease you think you have is something like strep throat, getting tested is not so scary. But there are a lot of diseases that people don’t like to get screened for–like cancers, etc. Those diseases are scary, but the truth is that they’re treatable, and the earlier you detect them, the better off you’ll be. If you’re in the age range where regular screenings are advised, you may as well get tested. It’s your life, after all.
But now that I’ve give you my bit on cancer screenings, take a moment and consider this: what if it wasn’t cancer? What if it wasn’t just YOUR life?
What if it was HIV/AIDS?
1. According to the US Center for Disease Control, about 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV today…and about a fifth of them don’t know.
2. More than half a million Americans to date have died from HIV-related causes.
3. Of all fifty states, New York ranks the highest in the cumulative number of HIV cases reported
4. The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of HIV cases, with about 120 cases for every 100,000 members of the population as of 2008.
5. The highest rate of incidence in sub-Saharan Africa is Swaziland, with 25.9% of adults aged 15-49 infected with HIV
6. Kenya (where I am now) has 1,500,000 people living with HIV/AIDS-~-an incidence rate of 6.3%
7. Of the approximately 22,500,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa living with HIV/AIDS, 12,100,000 are women and 2,300,000 are children
This is what I, in the initial stages of my research here in Kenya, have seen on posters and been told over and over: knowing your status is the first step in taking care of yourself.
You can’t treat what you don’t know you have.
Today, I got to speak to a counselor at a VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) Center in Nairobi. Below is an excerpt of that conversation, which I recorded for research purposes. HIV may not discriminate between men and women, but at least here, there are definitely gender issues at play-~-and everyone should be thinking about the issues that relate to HIV and safe sex.
[Excerpt from VCT interview:]
Me: So do you generally recommend that people get tested with their partners?
Counselor: It is always better that partners get tested together. We really kind of need women to be aggressive and get the men to come in, they’re very resistant to testing.
Me: So you get more women here than men?
Counselor: Yes, we get more women getting tested than men. But it’s really important that the partners come in together so they know each other’s status, so that they can talk about it.
Me: Is it just couples you focus on?
Counselor: Not just couples. We really emphasize personal responsibility. People like to say they’re with their partner, they’re going to be faithful to their partner. And that’s sweet, it’s good, we encourage that. People should be faithful. But people mess up. So it’s important that people make sure they know what is going on with them.
Me: Are there certain things you focus on, counseling couples?
Counselor: We really focus on communication in the relationship. Most young people, they don’t discuss it. Young men don’t like it. They don’t like to talk about the virus. So women need to be careful in opening that conversation.
Me: What advice would you give someone who felt they needed to have that conversation? For example, if I needed to talk to my partner about HIV or getting tested, what would be your advice?
Counselor: It really depends on the woman, on her relationship. But we tell women, don’t make it sound accusatory, don’t make it sound controlling. It’s always better to say, “you should come with me because you should know MY status,” instead of saying “I need to know YOUR status”. It sounds less accusatory, men are more likely to listen. But the thing is that knowing your status, knowing your partner’s status, is the first step. “If you don’t know, you’re going to get it.” And another thing is that if your partner is forcing sex on you without a condom, we always tell them the best advice we can give is for them to get out. Get out of that relationship, because their health is at risk, their life could be at risk.
You know that scene in Grease where the guys talk about how “that’s all it takes, 15 minutes?” Well that’s how long it takes to get tested for HIV…so get tested. If it comes back negative, that’s awesome. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay: the fact is that if you’re HIV positive, that isn’t going to change just because you didn’t KNOW you were HIV positive, but you ARE going to be preventing yourself from making the smartest possible choices. Not knowing isn’t an answer.
Why take risks with your health? Talk to your partner. Get tested. Know your status. Use protection-~-male OR female condoms will work here. (Practice monogamy-~-it’s another bit of advice they give for protecting yourself here) Have conversations about sexual health even if they’re a little uncomfortable. What’s worse: an awkward conversation with your partner, or HIV/AIDS? Start talking.
Saunders, Randi. Transcribed interview with counselor from Liverpool VCT, Moi Ave, Nairobi, Kenya, 01/27/12