The ball is rolling out on rapid home HIV testing with the US FDA approving a test last week. I’ll admit I have some concerns. I’ve worked in HIV education for a long time. I’ve seen many changes in our understanding of how HIV progresses, and the evolution of treatments. I’ve seen women and men go from near-death to vibrant with these treatments. It has been amazing.
But what’s remained consistent over the years is the shock that people feel when the test comes back positive. Even folks who say they suspected they might have it can have a rough time when their suspicions are confirmed. So I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to go through this alone.
I read a passionate post on the topic, and kept nodding as I read it. The poster noted that the HIV test itself is the start of a domino reaction that can go very bad, very fast. There is the individual’s reaction to the diagnosis – shock, denial, despair, and suicidal thoughts are common. There is also the reaction from family and community to consider- denial, ostracism, loss of family and violence are common. Picture a small village or town. There is nowhere to go with that positive HIV test. Now what?
HIV is a lifelong disease that has a heavy stigma attached to it, and despite the treatment advances that make it possible to live long and normal lives, it doesn’t always play that way. Even if treatments go well and manage the disease, women will say they feel too much shame to have sex, or too much fear to even disclose to others. They say they feel tremendously isolated, as HIV isn’t something that gets talked about the way other health challenges do. No one is a “hero” with HIV, many women have said. And these are women who have the opportunity to come for support at my workplace, Positive Women’s Network.
I’m all for everyone getting tested for HIV; I think it’s vital to know your HIV status. This nurse blogger asks the big question about all kinds of home health tests: “Can you handle being the first to know?”
If we’ve learned anything in the last thirty years, it’s that the trauma of HIV needs to be faced with supportive people in hand. Fighting all aspects of HIV is a “together” thing. Can you feel that testing at home alone?
Youshouldknow.ca: Sexual health science, culture and news for women edging to middle age, parents and educators. Info on sexually transmitted infections, relationship dynamics, aging and sexual health, and sex education.
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