Despite the scrapping of testing fees in government health facilities and the large donor funds Nigeria receives annually, one in five young persons have never tested for HIV. This statistics looks insignificant until you do the maths and realise at least 18 million people have no idea of their status. We must recognise that these numbers can only be reduced by promoting awareness on self-testing.
You probably heard of HIV as an insuppressible disease that kills everyone it touches mercilessly, but it is very much manageable if caught early. And the only way to detect it early is to test regularly.
As today, 1 December 2020, marks yet another World AIDS Day, I have compiled some experiences of young people who have self-tested for HIV (and some reasons why you should get yourself tested soon).
I interned at this diagnostic laboratory during SIWES period that year. There, I ran a lot of screening test on pregnant women and people interested in blood donation. One time, while I was testing a pregnant woman, I pricked myself by accident. I wasn’t so bothered until her result showed positive. I panicked. Since I was already in a lab, I just grabbed a self-test kit and asked a fellow intern to help me. The three minutes between sample collection and knowing the result was the longest and darkest moment of my life. Although it showed negative the first time, I continued testing every other week to be sure. Lucky for me, they all came up negative.
My personal experience with a test kit was in 2018. I was in my second year of nursing school. I usually had access to the kits during clinical rotations, and I also had this friend whose mum was a nurse and brought lots of kits around the hostel. One day, she came around with an unfamiliar one which I decided to test with. I took the sample, added buffer and all of that. I left it for about ten minutes then came back to read my result. What I saw threw me off balance. Two stripes! My bones became weak. I started wondering where I got it from. I thought of the clinic and all the patients I had worked with. I wept! I did not know who to go to. I thought of confiding in my friend but I feared the stigma that might follow if her mouth leaked. So I kept to myself. I was starving and couldn’t concentrate during classes. Later, I went to my friend and explained everything with the used kit. Before that, I made her swear not to reveal it. When she saw the kit, she told me I was negative. Apparently, I had read wrong. Only one of the stripe was filled with blood but because there were two lines on it, I assumed I was positive. I knelt down and was praising God after she left because it would have been terrible for me.
All my life, I have tested a total of two times. The first was very dramatic for me. My friends and I decided together to test one day. It was supposed to be one of those hard guy moments but I failed shamelessly. I wasn’t brave enough to stand over the counter and ask for an HIV test kit so and they bought it. They finished theirs but I was yet to test myself. Truth is, I’m terrified of needles, pins and anything that requires piercing my skin. I remember my friend pinned me down and took the sample. I can’t say for sure how long it look to show but it was less than 15 minutes. During that short time, I kept asking myself “what if?” questions. I was even imagining how I would break the news to my parents because, at that time, I was very dependent on them. Thankfully, it came out negative.
The first time I self-tested was about a year ago. Before that time, I have tested at least twice that I remember. All these school registration requirements in JSS 1 and in 100 level but those were done by someone. So this one was just out of plain curiosity. I was out with some people during a medical outreach where we were testing people for HIV. At the end of the day, people I came with started taking turns to test themselves but I couldn’t bring myself to do it in presence of my peers. They may not have been staring but I was too self-conscious. As we were packing remnant equipment, I snuck two kits for myself. I locked my door and drew the curtains before I started. The first kit gave an invalid result, blood filled the HIV stripe but not the control stripe. I was scared but not scared. You know how one thing goes south and you just start shaking. Anyway, I tried with the second and that came out negative.
That day I went to the doctor’s and made some complaints. I don’t know why, but he told me to go run some tests, HIV inclusive. FMC’s laboratories were always packed with people and they delayed results for too long. That’s if they don’t lose it and ask you to retake the test. But I was too weak to go to the private clinic I usually used so I opted for the hospital’s lab. It was just too crowded that day, and I wasn’t comfortable taking the test there even though the HIV test there is free. So I sat for other tests there then went elsewhere to buy the kit. It was easy for me to use. I got my result in like five minutes or so.
I used those kits in 2016 first. I purchased them at a drug store. The only hassle was pricking my finger but that doesn’t bother me anymore. There was this self-test tutorial on Youtube that I followed. It is now a routine for me. I have seen firsthand how badly late diagnosis can alter people’s lives. My cousin discovered his positive status quite late and is dead now. He was a chronic drug user. Not like it is hereditary you know. But… I’m more conscious about it. I test every other month.
I self-tested first when I was 17. My mum is a nurse so supplies like HIV kits were always somewhere in the house, or in the clinic. I have an unreal phobia for needles but that day I had to overcome it to obtain blood. Since I would have no tenable explanation for testing if someone saw me, I did it in private. My mother, being a nurse, taught me about sex from very early because she believed in exposing children to things rather than hiding it from them. She even supplied me condoms. But I started having raw sex with some guy because that was the only way he’d believe I loved him enough. We had done it a couple of times before I discovered he was a free giver of sex. Anyways, I tested that day and of course, it was negative. I was checking almost every day during that period. I even moved a pack from the clinic to my room when the ones at home were visibly reducing. I’m safe now.
This wasn’t my first time using self kits. It was just my first time with that mouth swap thingy. And yes, it was an experiment. It was relatively simple to use. I just swapped it over my gum and dipped it in a liquid. I have stuck with it now because it is easier and does not require me stabbing myself.
Story by Musa Faridat. Reach her here.