Time to reflect on Irish Aids Day: have we taken enough action for our health?
2018-06-15 14:02:27 -

Photo Source: ACET


By Ifedinma B Dimbo

Being healthy and maintaining our health should be a mandate we give ourselves. As Irish Aids Day on 15 June is upon us, I ask, have we taken that action to maintain our health?

In the early 1980s the discovery of the HIV virus and the related death toll resonated round the world. In the early days, the virus and the syndrome it caused, Aids, were said to have no treatment, so contracting HIV implied a death sentence.


In the more than 30 years since, the story changed: antiretroviral drugs were discovered and used effectively, and HIV/Aids began to lose its death grip on humanity.


Now, instead of dying from Aids, people with HIV are living normal lives. They can have sexual relations without infecting their partner, and can marry and have children without transmitting the virus to their children. But to be part of this success story, you must get tested – and, if infected, be on an appropriate treatment.


One important fact became obvious during research into HIV: our culture and societal expectations affect how we behave and make decisions. On this basis today, at least in the western world, there are excellent intervention programs promoting prevention, access to free HIV testing and adherence to treatment and care if one tests positive for HIV. However, in Ireland, health surveillance reports show that up to 30 per cent of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who are living with HIV are yet to test for the virus.


There are many reasons that one can point to as to why black Africans are not testing for HIV. For one, there is the self-imposed stigma and shame over other people knowing. There are the psychological implications of that initial ‘death sentence’ that makes people prefer not to know their status.


There is also a persisting lack of information and knowledge about HIV and its prevention, treatment and care, and why it is important to test. Problematic, too, is the taboo placed on the discussion of sexual matters in our home countries in Africa.


Add to that the challenges we face at integrating into a country and community, and a lack of existing healthcare initiatives that are sensitive to our culture and target our health needs. All these reasons may well come together to form barriers and stop us from testing for HIV.


However, the bottom line is that too many of us black Africans living in Ireland have not tested, so most of us do not know whether we have HIV or not.


The time to take action is now, if we want to secure our future health. As I see it, not testing for HIV can be likened to a saying from my Igbo culture: a person lives by the ocean yet washes their hand with saliva.


We live in a world where we can access healthcare services easily — and in Ireland, HIV testing is free — so what is really stopping us from testing?


We Africans love secrecy, and I am not one to wash my dirty linen in public. But where health risks are a factor, not only to myself but potentially to those close to me, why would I not test? I want to see tomorrow so as to enjoy the fruits of my labour, but testing for HIV is my responsibility.


The story of HIV and its death toll will only change irrevocably when people actually get tested, know their status and do what’s necessary to keep on living.

Ifedinma B Dimbo is a researcher with Acet Ireland. You can contact her at ifedinma@acet.ie

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