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Health Talk! You can now test yourself for HIV

Hello Kfbers, we have got a very important topic today on Know
Your Own Health.
For the newbies, KFB Health Talk is a column where health–related
issues are examined to help us get more conscious about our health.
Do you know you can now treat yourself for HIV? 

You better believe what you have just read. When it comes to HIV/AIDS, the new word in the medical world is self-testing.

With the advent of new technologies in
medicine, you and I can know our HIV status with a simple test that can
be taken in the privacy of our homes.
Nowadays, testing yourself for HIV means
that you and other people can use oral fluid or blood-finger-pricks to
discover their status in a private and convenient setting. Results are
ready within 20 minutes or less.
Some tests only require a swab of saliva and your result is ready after 30 minutes.
This is important because of the stigma
associated with the viral disease. Most people are often scared to take
the test in laboratories or health centres where they can run into any
one they know.
These fears are profound and not
unfounded. We have had instances where untrained nurses carelessly
disclosed the HIV status of patients to other people.
Being able to test yourself makes it easier to accept the result, says consultant haematologist, Dr. Kunle Adetayo.
Adetayo says that despite the
counselling given to patients before testing, having someone else
disclose their results is often a blow that many may not recover from.
“I would rather be the first to know
that I am HIV positive or not. It’s a diagnosis most people would prefer
to know.  Then you can quietly walk into a clinic and get registered
for treatment, knowing you have scaled the first hurdle.
“Self-testing will also increase the
population of people who know their HIV status because believe it or
not, more than half of those infected do not know and they will keep
transmitting it,” he says.
Adetayo painted the right picture.
According to the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr.
Margaret Chan, new statistics show that over 40 per cent of those
infected with HIV are unaware of their status.
Chan says, “Millions of people with HIV
are still missing out on life-saving treatment, which can also prevent
HIV transmission to others.
“HIV self-testing should open the door
for many more people to know their HIV status and find out how to get
treatment and access prevention services.”
Doctors note that even though over 90
million Nigerians know that HIV/AIDS exists and kills when not detected
early, they are yet to get tested.
A report by the Federal Ministry of
Health also estimates that more than 70 per cent of Nigerian population
do not know their HIV/AIDS status.
Public health physician, Dr. Zizi Egbuwoku- Imatorbhebe, says that knowing one’s HIV status saves rather than kills.
She says that although there is
currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are drugs and treatments, such as
anti-retroviral drugs, which have been proved to slow down the course of
the disease and infected people who use these drugs can live a long and
healthy life.
Imatorbhebe, who defines HIV  as a virus
that attacks the immune system, the body’s natural defence system,
explains that the sooner one gets tested, the sooner one can access
treatment and information to help manage the condition and delay the
onset of AIDS(the advanced stages of the infection), should one test
positive for the disease.
She adds, “We can’t overstate the
importance of testing for HIV to ensure an early diagnosis. People
respond better to treatment when they are diagnosed at an earlier stage
of the disease.
“Knowing your HIV status is the key to
both effective treatment and to preventing onward transmission. HIV,
when not treated, quickly advances to AIDS. Make no mistake about it,
AIDS kills because the immune system would be too weak to resist
infection by then.”
Apart from getting treatment,
Imatorbhebe states that by not knowing one’s status, one puts one’s
spouse, siblings, parents and children at risk of getting infected.
She states that since HIV can be
transmitted in many ways, which include blood-blood contact like blood
transfusion, fluid-fluid contact such as vaginal, oral sex, anal sex and
blood transfusion, it is possible to infect others without knowing it.
For instance, an infected pregnant woman
can pass HIV to her baby or babies during pregnancy, during delivery
and through breast feeding if she does not know she is infected.
However, if a pregnant woman tests
positive for HIV, appropriate treatment can reduce the risk of infecting
the baby. Experts state that HIV-positive women have about a
one-in-four chance of infecting their baby during pregnancy or birth but
getting treatment before child birth can reduce this figure to about
one in 12.
Imatorhebe says, “You don’t have to have
had sex before you contract HIV. Babies have got it from their parents
who did not know that they had it. Siblings have contracted it from each
other through blood contact without knowing.
“But if you find out you are infected,
you can make sure that you protect your sex partner from becoming
infected. If more people know their HIV status and use the knowledge to
act responsibly, the pandemic can be better controlled.”
Remember that giving out this
information is entirely your decision. Health professionals and
counsellors, who conduct and discuss the test with you, must, by law,
keep the results strictly confidential.
Are you ready to know your own HIV
status? If you are ready, walk to a pharmacy nearest to you, ask for a
self-test kit and do the needful.
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