Cassanova With a Side Dish June 13, 2011  by      


From CFK Summer 2011 Fellow Chelsea Whittle:

At most major events CFK sets up an outreach VCT center under the Sexual Reproductive Health Program. A VCT center (voluntary counseling and testing) is well-known in this part of the world as the place to get tested for HIV.  CFK employs one full-time counselor and there is a collection of other people who volunteer at the VCT center, both at the permanent one at the CFK Main Office and for these sorts of events. I helped them set up for the VCT in an empty cement room with a table and two chairs in each corner- it was nothing glamorous but it was good enough to get the job done. Four stations were then set up in order to receive people throughout the day, with a target of testing 80 people at the event.

When the VCT staff and the peer youth educators (PYEs), who were there to mobilize people to come and get tested, found out that I had never been tested for HIV, they were shocked and it was apparent that they were not impressed with me. I tried to explain that in America many people don’t go to get tested for HIV on a regular basis. They asked me if it was because there was no access to testing or because there were no VCT centers around. I responded that in America those in “high-risk groups” were often targeted with testing efforts, or that people may get tested as a part of a STD screening. Other than that I doubted if many of my friends had been tested. I also explained that most Americans don’t think they are at risk for HIV; however, the PYEs were still not convinced this was reason enough for everyone in America to not get tested. I mentioned that I was married and that this was my primary reason for not getting tested. This also did little to convince them.

-“How do you know your husband is not a Casanova? How do you know he has no side dish?”

I laughed thinking about the side dishes that Marty did have at home – a collection of frozen food I had purchased from Trader Joe’s the day before I left.

But instead of going into all of that, I decided to get tested.

This was an interesting experience because the counselor ran me through the whole program of what she normally says, as she should have. Having read academically about VCTs for so long, it was really interesting to go through all of the paces – talking to the counselor about how I was at risk, how I could prevent changing my negative status or passing on HIV to a partner, giving my first name, marital status, job and age and then finally getting my finger pricked and the having the test completed. This information, along with my status, was collected both by CFK and sent to the national government. They use three different tests here in Kenya, and it is likely to be the same elsewhere. Once the first test is completed, if there is a positive result a second test is used to confirm. If this reads negative, a third is done as a tiebreaker. The test took about 15 minutes and I was told to read the results myself. The counselor told me that she always had the person being tested read their own results for fear that they would think she was lying to them. If it read positive, they were referred to the Tabitha Clinic for follow-up. All and all, it was an important moment and I think it was good for me to practice what I was preaching.

Lindsey and I with our “certificates”.

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