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Know your HIV status, save your life

YOU only have one body and one life to live in this planet, and to what lengths you would go to protect them from harm depends entirely on you.

I remember one of my former lecturers particularly, Tuesday Adamo from West Africa who used to preach to us that God only gives you oxygen and height free of charge, but the rest (read good diet/health) are in your hands.

However, on 1st December 2018 we marked 30 years since the inception of World AIDS Day with the renewed call to action, “Know your HIV status.” Knowing your sero-status gives one living with HIV the opportunity to get treatment that keeps one’s healthy and helps protect others around from being transmitted with the deadly virus.

Though there is still stigma and fear instilled in the society to cower away from knowing their HIV status, lest they become shunned, but at present 9.4 million people around the world are living with HIV and don’t know their statuses.

Some might be put off by the fear of testing positive, while to others HIV may be unknown to them. But why let fear get in the way of your health? 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.

Knowing your HIV status is important for your health, relationships, life and future. The fact is that HIV is preventable, and you can reduce or eliminate your risk. Early detection can lead to early treatment and better outcomes. Many people live long, normal lives with early detection and proper care, because the advancements in HIV options have been significant.

How often you should get tested for HIV depends on your circumstances. If you have never been tested for HIV, you should be tested at least once. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 gets tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care, and people at high risk should get it done more often. 

Without knowing your HIV status, how would you go about managing your health as medically required? The reasons to test far outweigh the reasons not to test. If you think you might have been at risk of contracting this infection, it is better to get tested to determine your status. The advantages of early detection cannot be stressed enough and include:

Testing is the only way to know if you have HIV. It’s normal to feel worried about HIV and whether you are infected or not, but testing can help put your mind at ease and reduce the anxiety of not knowing. Whether your result is negative, or positive, it’s always better to know so that you can move on with your life, or start treatment if necessary. 

Another advantage is if you do have HIV, being diagnosed at an early stage means that you have a better chance of living a long and healthy life. If you’re diagnosed early, you can start HIV treatment (antiretroviral drugs) earlier. 

This will lower the levels of the virus in your body and protect your immune system from damage and with effective antiretroviral treatment; it’s possible the level of virus in your body will go so low it becomes ‘undetectable’.

And hence you can no longer pass on HIV through sex. With the right treatment and care, people living with HIV can expect to live as long as the average person, so it’s important to take control of your health by getting a test.

Knowing your status enables you to look after the sexual health of your partners too. If you’re positive, you can prevent HIV from being transmitted to your partner by using condoms. Testing often increases your commitment to overall good health habits and if you test negative, you may feel less anxious after knowing your HIV status, and be more committed to keep it that way.

Getting tested also prevents chances of being be re-infected if you are positive and in the case of re-infection, not only will the disease progress faster, it puts you at risk of developing a so-called resistant virus, which does not respond to treatment. 

This would decrease your chances for effective treatment and even if you haven’t recently put yourself at risk of infection, making HIV testing part of your sexual health routine is a good habit. 

Remember more pertinent is the great strides that have been 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?

Testing for HIV is an important part of living a happy and healthy life, whatever the results. We know the prospect of an HIV-positive diagnosis can frighten people, but not knowing your status can be worse for your physical and mental health and means you could pass HIV onto your sexual partners.

Every sexually active person should make HIV testing a regular part of their sexual health routine! The bottom line is that whether positive or negative, HIV testing is a positive step. 

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Author: RACHEL MASIBO

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