Making Testing Easier

test kit and resultsBeing tested for HIV can prove to be a difficult issue. Waiting during appointments can be followed by waiting for results and in some cases, waiting for treatment or a treatment plan. This process can be even more difficult in places in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in more rural areas where testing clinics may only visit once a month or even once a year if at all. Stigma that surrounds the process of HIV tests adds to the difficulty. A husband may question his wife’s loyalty if she is tested. A teenaged girl getting tested may spark rumors of promiscuity. As simple as the task may sound, the social and cultural impressions paired with the present physical barriers make getting tested one of the biggest issues for some communities. Even here in the United States, according to AVERT, out of the estimated million plus people infected with HIV, approximately a fifth of them are unaware of their infection.  Similarly, in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is estimated that over 22 million people have HIV, only about 66 in 1000 people have been tested. These low numbers are usually attributed to the lack of testing resources and the stigmas attached to the testing process.

Community –based organizations have taken significant steps forward in making the HIV testing process easier, more convenient, and more private.  By offering HIV testing combined with other health services, they prevent the stigma attached to visiting testing-only sites. Others focus on education programs to end the stigma of HIV and AIDS, changing the conversation to a health concern that focuses on support and treatment and avoids blame. Organizations like Namwera AIDS Coordinating Committee in Malawi have had great success. They even run out ofa friendly crowd outside a community building tests each month and have to ask people to return the next month for testing.

Grassroots organizations establish a consistent presence in communities, offering same day testing with results and counseling whenever possible. Their presence builds awareness and support around an issue that many have faced if not in their immediate family, in their extended family or community.

It is truly inspiring to see the reach and ingenuity put forth by grassroots organizations in the efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and the extra efforts being made for those who live in low access areas. As Kofi Annan, 7th UN Secretary-General, once said, “The global HIV/AIDS epidemic is an unprecedented crisis that requires an unprecedented response. In particular it requires solidarity- between the healthy and the sick, between rich and poor, and above all, between richer and poorer nations. We have 30 million orphans already. How many more do we have to get, to wake up?”

Many Firelight grantee partners offer a range of HIV and AIDS testing options combined with counseling and community education programs. The broad reach of these grassroots groups address HIV among the many issues communities face that result from HIV, AIDS, and poverty. Through their on-the-ground efforts they reach those most vulnerable with new technologies for testing, help implement treatment plans with access to antiretroviral therapies, and a community of support that decreases stigma and isolation.