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Teresia and Peter's Story: HIV Testing in Kenya

July 30, 2012

Teresia bustles around her tiny straw-roofed house, arranging enough furniture for our delegation of new media journalists and bloggers to sit. She and her husband listen attentively as they are read the information and disclosure forms that enable KEMRI (Kenyan Medical Research Institute)/CDC to work with the data collected. As I mentioned in Friday's post, the home health workers we’re with are going to test the couple for HIV/AIDS.

When the forms are explained, the couple—who live in a rural area of Kenya called the Nyanza District—are asked if they could read and write. On being told that they could not, the health care workers seek the daughter of the family who is asked to listen to the same information and ensure that her parents understand. Not being able to sign their names, the couple mutely allows the young women to take their fingerprints to witness the documents.

The tests are done at the same time for good reason. If they are to be done separately, and the first one is negative, then the other person might assume he/she is too and refuse the test.

Once this is done, the tension in the small house mounts as the medical equipment is unpacked. The accompanying doctor from KEMRI/CDC talks quietly to the daughter and looks more closely at her son’s foot. We are charmed at the scene of the young girl with her son bound in a sling on her back – all we can see of the child is his foot and a little hand reaching out to tickle his own foot.

The doctor sees something more worrying, an infection in danger of turning serious. Even a simple boil can be life-threatening if it is not treated, and this one is not looking good. The doctor instructs the young mother to go to the health care facility as soon as possible, and discusses with them if they could wait until the next day. I later asked why they were reluctant to have the boy treated and was told that they had to arrange transport.

“What if they cannot afford transport to the nearest clinic?” I enquired.

“I gave them some money so that they can get the boy to the clinic”, he replied.

The health care workers would check on the family the following day to ensure that they had taken the boy to be treated.

The women are ready to test the couple for HIV/AIDS. Simultaneously the health care workers prick the fingers of the couple and draw blood. The tests are done at the same time for good reason. If they are to be done separately, and the first one is negative, then the other person might assume he/she is too and refuse the test. This way, they receive the news together. They are counselled that the results may be different for each of them, and asked how this would make them feel about each other.

Teresia and Peter are told how to read the test results, so that they are better able to accept them. When the small alarm clock signals an end to the 15 minutes, they gingerly pick up their tests and study them. Without being able to understand the words they say, the relief on their faces is clear to see.

Teresia and Peter are both HIV negative.

The counsellors give them a moment to digest the news then move onto the second part of the session – giving the couple information on how to stay negative. This involves a condom demonstration on a wooden penis and some very frank questions:eg, how many sexual partners they have had, if they have had sex in the past three months, if they used a condom, if he was circumcised, etc.

They seem comfortable answering these questions, even with an audience of two men from the CDC/KEMRI and two Western women recording their responses.

We ask Teresia how she is feeling now. ‘I am feeling good. My heart was beating very hard during the wait for the results’, she admitted. When asked what worries  her most about the possibility of being diagnosed HIV+, she says that having to take so many medicines concerns her.

‘Are you glad you had the test done?’ we ask.

‘Yes’, is the immediate response.

When my colleague asks Peter if he is polygamous, he laughs and looks at his wife. Gesturing with one finger, he  replies, ‘She is the one’.

The KEMRI/CDC health workers head out having completed one of many home visits to test for HIV/AIDS that day, and monitor and record all of the information they need to ensure that the health needs of this rural community are being addressed.

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