I decided I was going to get tested because what really was stopping me? Nothing. This friend recommended a primary healthcare centre on the mainland of Lagos and held my hand through the process by staying on the phone until I walked into the test room. I needed that support because like I kept asking him on the phone, “what if the result returns as positive?”.
I had made a few mistakes in the past year that led me to accommodate the possibilities of being HIV positive. Yes, I was horrified for what could be but a part of me was ready to ‘medicate’ my way out of it. With the level of my exposure to HIV and AIDS matters, I know the former is NOT a death sentence.
Once in the dilapidated healthcare centre, my anxiety levels soared. There were four humans in it. I looked out of place. They had their eyes on me. After exchanging awkward pleasantries and stating my mission, the younger lady, in no little or no words, had judged me. My friend was still on the phone and I was sure, he could feel the judgement from miles away. The most shocking part of this experience was when the second lady in the room asked me pointedly, “why do you want to get tested?”. I was shocked and confused in equal parts because prior to that moment, I was sure knowing your HIV status as a sexually active adult was perfectly normal.
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Here is what that question and the attendant statement “you have to come back, they are not around” did to me. It made me question the decision to know my status because if it turned out positive, these women were going to know and shame me for my life choices. But things took a quick twist when the second lady who told me to come back the following day suddenly said “I’m the one who will test you. Sit down”.
In that short moment of waiting, I had the opportunity to vent to my friend about how I had just been treated for trying to do the right thing. Although he was as upset as I was, he encouraged to focus on what was coming: the test. It held in a more private room which was slightly comforting until I had to share all my personal and contact details.
Twenty minutes of anxiety, tension and heart palpitations after, I drove out of the healthcare centre with my result and a promise to never return there. I had just learned first-hand the role shame plays in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV in our part of the world. Healthcare workers need to be properly and consistently trained on handling patients, HIV already poses a challenge to society, shame and stigmatization only makes the situation even more difficult.
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When last did you get tested for HIV and what was the experience?