A young man wrote complaining that he could not afford private testing and found the free service at the New Start centre intimidating. He was of the opinion that the New Start centre staff carried out group counselling instead of one-on-one counselling.
Another reader also wrote making similar claims. I had not checked this information for myself so I did not write anything.
The two readers said if one bumped into a colleague, friend or relative in the group sessions, it was difficult to behave “normally” afterwards. They felt the people they met who knew them would always wonder what their results were and if they were to have even a simple cough there would be speculation about their HIV status.
I paid a visit to a New Start centre and although staff was unwilling to comment on the claims of the readers, what I was able to glean was the fact that counselling is still carried out with each individual or with each couple in private.
After one has had a file opened for them, they are required to join several other people simply to get general information. This is what the two readers mistook for counselling.
While I understand the discomfort the two felt when they met people they know, I feel it is important for us all to appreciate the fact that there are now huge numbers of people seeking counselling and testing.
The New Start employees have to deal with a major demand for their services and cannot sit with every individual or couple simply for general information sharing.
The important thing is that pre- and post-testing counselling is done in private. You still get your results in private.
I also got an email from a young man who said he had gone with his lover for counselling and testing and had both been found positive. He said they both loved each other and would still like to go ahead and get married.
He wanted to know if they could still have a child. There are positive couples that have had children. Some years ago, I interviewed women in Chitungwiza who were on a trial programme aimed at stopping mother-to-child transmission. They were put on Nevirapine and monitored by medical staff in charge of the programme. This was done throughout the pregnancy.
The programme left me cold because it was specifically about the unborn child and it seemed what happened to the mother afterwards was not important as long as the child was saved.
It has been a long time now and there have been many developments in HIV management. The right thing for any positive couple interested in having a child is to consult qualified medical personnel. They can make a proper assessment of what the risks are to both mother and child.
There have been cases of HIV-positive couples giving birth to babies that are negative. One couple had a set of twins more than 15 years ago — one was positive and the other was negative. The twins are grown up now and the one who was born negative has remained so and the other twin is taking antiretroviral drugs.
There is a greater understanding of HIV and Aids today and stigma is not as much of an issue as it was 20 years ago.
Of course we will always have a few ignorant people who delight in making fun of not just people living with HIV and Aids but other health problems.
Do not let what other people think stop you from knowing your status so you can plan your life from an informed position.
I admit a life of taking medical drugs is not attractive but think of all the other people out there going through chemotherapy, taking drugs for hypertension or diabetes.
The most important thing is to know your status and learn how to manage it.
Have your sugar levels and blood pressure checked as well. So many people assume because they have no family history of diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer, they are free. Under normal circumstances, one should always have a complete physical at least once a year. And men beyond 40 must have their prostate checked while women do their breast examination and pap smears.
Remember many medical conditions can be managed if you find out early. Fear will rob you of your life. Bite the bullet and visit your doctor. If you have a pain you do not fully understand, do not pop painkillers and hope for the best. Get it checked out.
I wish you a peaceful and merry Christmas.