Your goal for World AIDS Day this year: Get yourself tested, people!
Tomorrow is World AIDS Day again — December 1 — a day that has been marked since 1988 as a way of raising awareness around HIV and AIDS, supporting those living with HIV or AIDS, and remembering those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. The theme for this year: Know your status.
It sounds scary, and we all dread getting checkups, whatever they’re for, but getting checked for HIV is something that could literally save your life.
Why do you need to know your status?
The number one reason you need to know your status is that if you do find out you are HIV+, you are well placed to start treatment right away, which means that you can ultimately live a normal life and live as long as anyone else.
Another reason you need to know your status is so that you don’t put others at risk. UNAIDS says that one quarter of those living with HIV are not aware of their status.
What is HIV treatment like today?
Today, those who are found to be HIV+ will ultimately start anti-retroviral treatment, which is normally just one or two pills a day which, in laymen’s terms, makes the virus dormant. It can’t attack your immune system, you can’t pass the virus on to anyone through sexual activity and, most importantly, you can live a normal life.
In China, about 760,000 people are living with HIV, and of those 610,000 are taking anti-retroviral medication.
Is HIV just a gay men’s problem?
The majority of new cases in China are among men who have sex with men, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect actual numbers. Xiao Zhi, Testing Project Specialist at the Shanghai Qing’ai Health Center, explained: “The statistics of new infections is probably due to the fact that we have the largest number of detection and mobilization efforts in the MSM (men who have sex with men) population. If we don’t do MSM crowd-testing and mobilization next year, that will significantly reduce the number of new findings, but that doesn’t mean the rate of infection is reduced.”
I’m in a monogamous relationship. Should I get tested?
How often should I test?
If you’re sexually active, Shanghai Qing’ai Health Center recommend testing for HIV every 3-6 months.
Where do I get tested?
You can basically test for HIV anywhere if you buy your own self-testing kit, which are available online and in some pharmacies in Shanghai. They are either mouth swab kits or blood kits, which require just a drop of blood.
But experts warn that it’s best to get tested with a professional, because they can then offer counselling if the result is unexpected. In which case, you can see a doctor or visit the Shanghai Qing’ai Health Center — add their WeChat (search “Shanghai Qing’ai” or 행갔숯영 on WeChat) to chat with them privately and make a free appointment.
Is testing for HIV anonymous? What about my visa?
Your health records are meant to remain anonymous, but some people, especially foreigners studying or working in China, are worried about testing for HIV because of their visa conditions. If you’re worried about your privacy, the people at Shanghai Qing’ai Health Center offer completely anonymous testing and counselling. “The tests and consultations we provide are anonymous,” Xiao Zhi told me. “The examinees can receive HIV testing and counseling without giving us their real name and information.”
Don’t forget, it’s always best to know your status. Try and not only make testing for HIV a goal this World AIDS Day, but also a regular thing you do a few times a year. Your health, and the health of those you love the most, relies on it.