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Putting aside fear to know their status

More than 800 people tested for HIV/AIDS during Scotiabank’s Bright Future Program’s 3rd Annual Regional Testing Day
  • A representative from KYS gives information on HIV/AIDS.

  • Professionals from the Ministry of Health and the National HIV/AIDS program conducted confidential screenings and provided pre-test and post-test counseling on taking precautions to stop the spread of HIV.

  • More than 800 people showed up to know their status.

  • A young lady gets tested.

  • People lined up to take advantage of the free testing during Scotiabank’s 3rd Annual Regional Testing Day in Pompey Square. PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTIABANK

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Jul 02, 2013

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For most people the reason they don’t know their HIV/AIDS status is the same — and it’s all a battle in their head — they want to know their status, but at the same time, they don’t really want to know. And it was this very same battle that waged within Sherman Smith’s (name changed) head and kept him from knowing his status until last year.

“You’re afraid to know, and afraid to know what’s going to happen if you get bad results — how it’s going to change your life and how your life is going to go on afterwards,” said the 28-year-old, who took only his second HIV/AIDS test in his lifetime, last week during the Scotiabank Bright Future Program’s 3rd annual Regional Testing Day in Pompey Square on Bay Street.

Trained professionals from the Ministry of Health and the National HIV/AIDS program conducted confidential screenings and provided pre-test and post-test counseling on taking precautions to stop the spread of HIV.

According to the country’s monitoring the declaration of commitment on HIV and AIDS country report, prepared by the National HIV/AIDS Centre of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, at March 31, 2010, as of December 31, 2008, The Bahamas had a cumulative total of 11,507 reported HIV infections. Of the 7,465 living individuals, 2.078 were living with an AIDS diagnosis, while 5,387 had HIV infections that had not progressed to AIDS.

The report said AIDS remained the leading cause of death in the 15-49 year age group in The Bahamas. And that based on modeling and antenatal surveillance it was estimated that approximately three percent of persons in The Bahamas were infected with HIV.

According to the report, the estimate postulated that the large majority of persons reported were in the productive years of early adulthood between the ages of 20-39 years of age. And that the disease occurred primarily among heterosexuals (approximately 87 percent), although accurate data due to reporting challenges with men who have sex with men remained a challenge. The report further read that although there was no evidence to determine intravenous drug use, historically, intravenous drug use was not a common practice in The Bahamas and therefore was not considered to contribute significantly to HIV transmission.

Since 1994, the report said there had been a decreasing trend in the HIV incidence rate with the greatest change noted in the 20-49 year old group. And that the number of newly reported HIV infections peaked in 1994, while AIDS cases peaked in 1997 with subsequent declines in both categories. A slight increase in the number of newly reported HIV infections was noted in 2005 and 2006 that was attributed to the increased testing during the “Know Your Status” campaign.

Over the many years he’d been sexually active, Smith said he always thought about his health and about not spreading anything to his partner, but that it was still not enough to get him to take the test to know his status. He said it wasn’t until last year that through his health plan that he took the test for the first time during his annual physical.

“What made it easier for me to do it was the insurance. I could just take it and it wouldn’t cost me anything — that’s the main reason why I took it,” he said. But he said he still felt “funny” doing it.

When the results were returned negative, Smith said he was elated.

With Scotiabank hosted its HIV testing day, Smith said he decided to get tested to experience the process that he had heard was being done with new technology and rapid testing that would be easy and did not involve taking blood.

“I wanted to see how it was so that I could tell other people, so they too could know their results and get along with their life.

Smith said it took him all of 15 minutes to get tested on Friday in a process he said he found very professional. For the young man, the most important part of the test he felt was the pre-counseling.

“Before I took the test, they sat me down with an expert who explained that the results whether positive, negative or unable to be determined, that there was counseling beforehand and afterwards and that HIV was not a death sentence.”

Smith believes it was the pre-counseling that was made available that helped to calm down a lot of people on the day and help them to go through the entire process.

“It’s good to know your status, but it was also educational because the counseling — even if you were negative, they told you what you needed to do to remain negative. And prior to the testing day I didn’t know HIV [treatments] were free in The Bahamas, so even if you were positive, people could get their treatment and live a normal, healthy life. The earlier you get detected the better it is for you, so it’s good to know where you stand so you could know.”

With Scotiabank reporting more than 800 people showing up to know their status, Smith said he too was surprised at how many people showed up.

“Even though I said I was going to do it, there’s all sort of shame in it … I’m standing on the line so people will know I’m sexually active, people will know that I may be questioning whether I do have it or not — just small stupid things, that you think about, knowing that you’re in the public doing something like this. But to see a lot more other people doing it made you feel like it’s normal, and you should be proud to know your status.”

The young man who has now been tested twice for HIV/AIDS, said going through the process has also made him feel responsible.

“After the process, I knew that I was protecting myself and engaging in healthy practices and I was proud to know,” he said.

Even though he preferred to speak to The Nassau Guardian anonymously, he said that he has proudly shown his certificate that says he’s negative to the people that he loves. And he said he would get tested again.

Scotiabank’s support of the Know Your Status (KYS) program is part of the bank’s global HIV strategy launched in 2011, which works to fight the stigma and discrimination of the life-threatening disease by promoting awareness and education.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 July 2013 16:01