Saturday, April 18, 2009


Josh and I are officially HIV/AIDs-free. Shocked? We weren’t, either. We got tested not because we wondered about our “status” (the ubiquitous term here for whether or not you are infected), but rather to gain perspective and insight into the testing process.

HIV/AIDs is a HUGE problem in Namibia. Around one-quarter of the population has HIV/AIDs right now. Pretty much every town has a free testing center. This disease has decimated an entire generation of Africans, and is now working on the next one.

During our in-country orientation, we were taught about the basics of HIV/AIDs. Some facts to remember:
 HIV is the virus that causes AIDS
 HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids, specifically blood, semen, and breast milk.
 There are two main strains of HIV, one primarily present in developed countries, and one present in mostly third-world countries. Far more research has been done on the first type.
 If proper precautions are taken, there is a 8% chance that HIV will be transmitted to a child from an infected mother.
 There is no cure for AIDs
 There is no way to tell whether someone has HIV/AIDs just by looking at them
 AIDs can be treated with anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, which can extend life while infected from an average of 10 years to an average of 30 years.
 AIDs and tuberculosis are often referred to as twins, because TB is common here, and it is much easier to catch it if you have AIDs. Usually TB is completely treatable, but it can be very serious if you are positive.
 There is still a huge stigma against AIDs in Namibian society, so people hesitate to get tested.
 ARVs must be taken at the same exact time each day, and receiving them requires finding a sponsor who agrees to make sure that happens. This is very difficult to do if the fear of discrimination keeps someone from telling anyone they’re positive.
 AIDs most dramatically effects (and kills) people in their 30s and 40s. This is the age in which people often contribute the most to a society, through financial contribution, raising children, caring for the elderly, volunteer work, and sharing of talents, skills, and ideas.

Before we went to get tested, we were told nothing of the process. We were taken, one-by-one, into a small room, and given an identification number and told to pick a fake name. We then went to a waiting room, and were called into a tiny counseling room, where they ask about past sexual and relational history. After that, you go to another room, have your finger pricked, and they do the test. Then you wait for your results.

Waiting was by far the most difficult part of the experience. I have never had a blood transfusion. I have never so much as kissed any man other than my husband. He has never kissed another woman. I had pretty much zero risk, but there was still a small part of me that wondered. Could something have happened that exposed us to HIV? After all, we are in Africa. The chance is so small there is not a word to accurately describe it, and yet I considered it. I once saw an episode of some “Law and Order”-type show in which a doctor was infected with HIV when he had a blood transfusion after a car accident that took place while he was volunteering in Africa. Far fetched? Of course. But reason and logic are not always top priorities during an experience like this.

While we waited, Josh and I held hands and talked quietly. A couple of men joined us in the waiting room. It made more of an impact- they may have tested positive, may really not have known their results, may have taken part in risky behavior.

We received our results simultaneously, but separately. To be perfectly honest, I felt a sense of relief.

It opened our eyes to the fear that testing can bring. We are grateful to have had this opportunity. It will give us the chance to tell people, from personal experience, that the process is nothing to be afraid of.


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