PRICK AND KNOW: More women than men know their HIV status due to their own volition or to antenatal care. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
More women than men know their HIV status and it would be great if more men went for testing.
What is not so well known – and I speak from personal experience – are the inner struggles men have to confront before going for testing.
Men usually tend to get tested by proxy – our spouses or partners test either of their own volition or as part of antenatal care.
I must confess my fear is not out of a lack of information, as I have read everything an ordinary person would want to know about the pandemic and could easily pass a basic HIV-Aids quiz.
I also work and interact with colleagues who are living with the virus. In addition my nuclear, as well as extended, family has been affected like every other family in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, the discourse on HIV-Aids is yet to translate into our day-to-day interaction.
The syndrome is still couched in the negative. The stigma of those already living with the virus makes it more difficult for those newly diagnosed to think of Aids like any other chronic illness.
So many men are still dead scared of the pandemic. Take for instance one long day when my wife, Carol, decided to undergo an HIV-Aids test as part of antenatal care. I dreaded receiving a call from her.
I don’t just speak for myself. I have friends who dread the antenatal visit which involves voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) for pregnant women.
When I asked Carol about her decision to get tested, she responded casually and expressed the need to protect the unborn child.
Carol gave birth to our third daughter, Wandile, at the end of August through a horrendous caesarean. Being the first person to hold the baby, I told Carol there would be no more children.
While happy to receive the new member of our family, a few things haunted me. I had refused, ducked and dived over the issue of being tested together with my spouse. I pretended to be busy and concocted travel plans.
No wonder I did not want Carol to call me the day she decided to take the HIV-Aids test.
While admiring and loving my new daughter one afternoon, it struck me that I could do something far more important for her than buy diapers and baby food.
I decided that my best gift to her wellbeing would be to know my HIV status and not rely on my wife’s results.
The next day I passed by a VCT centre and waited for two torturous hours to receive the results. When they called the pseudonym “David” for the results presentation, I almost did not hear it.
They ushered me in the opposite direction to a counselling room far away from the one where I had received the pre-testing counselling.
While Carol did not call me when she received her results, I called her immediately after receiving mine with a palpable sense of relief.
What would I have done if my results had come back positive? I might not have called her but would have bravely gone home to discuss the next steps more so with my daughter in my mind. My fear went away because of the love for my daughter and wife.
Many things went through my mind regarding what getting tested means for men – especially those who are married, have children or are planning a family.
I realise while information is readily available, the information needs to speak to something about the person. It needs to speak to those aspects of my life that make me a father, a husband and a community member.
Society has not changed the way it talks about HIV-Aids. As much as I know that I will not drop dead the minute I get infected, the subject of HIV-Aids is still taboo in our society. Many fear the virus yet thousands more Africans die from malaria each year than from the pandemic.