Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The LoveYourself Testing Experience

By Dun King

Admittedly, getting tested for HIV is not one of the easiest things you’ll ever do in your life - in fact, it can be one of the most unnerving experiences you’ll ever have to go through.  There are a myriad of reasons why you are getting tested - it may be a follow-up test to your previous result several months ago, or a  requirement for getting recruited overseas, or you just simply decided to take the plunge and get yourself tested for the first time. Regardless of the reason, it’s difficult to really get the hang of it - whether it’s your first or fifth time getting tested. In any case, getting tested is the only definitive way to know whether you will turn out “reactive” or “nonreactive”.
The Loveyourself Testing Experience
At Loveyourself, we know and understand the importance of getting tested.  By getting tested, we become aware of our HIV status and carry out informed and responsible decisions based on these results. For those who turn out to be reactive, treatment and support are available and by seeking medications, one can manage HIV and keep on living a healthy lifestyle. And for those who do not turn out to be reactive, we teach our clients about different aspects of self-care.
Regardless of the results, we at LoveYourself strive to ensure that your experience will assuage your fears, clear out issues you may have, and give you the assurance that support and help will be provided..
Getting Ready
1. It’s free. The test is completely free of charge. All you have to do is head to our clinics or mass testing events such as the upcoming Incognito 2.0 and let our friendly volunteers guide you through the process.
LoveYourself is a non-profit organization. Through its partnership with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM), LoveYourself is able to provide HIV screening at no cost. Furthermore, as the organization promotes a healthy sexual lifestyle through safe sex practices, clients can get condoms and lubricants for free.
2. Ask Questions. You’ll have all the opportunity to ask your counselor any questions you may have. Our volunteer counselors are trained to handle different types of questions and situations. Don’t be afraid to ask. Only when you ask will you find out what those answers are especially if they’re bothering you. The counselors have been trained to handle various situations. Remember, you are not alone through all this, and many people have been under similar or comparable circumstances.
3. Keep an open mind. All you need is an open mind to get the most out of the Loveyourself Testing experience. Understand and learn everything you can from HIV 101 up to the counseling provided from ways to keep yourself healthy while maintaining an active lifestyle to lessons in life.
Getting Tested
The entire testing process is comprised of 3 parts – pre-counseling, blood extraction, and post counseling. This usually lasts for 2 to 3 hours. In mass testing events where privacy and time are crucial, HIV101 or the pre-counseling stage is merged with counselling.
Pre-Counseling. Clients are educated about HIV and its different aspects through HIV 101. Counselors discuss what HIV is, its modes of transmission, sexual practices and respective risk levels,  debunk misconceptions about the disease, and safe sex practices.
The risk assessment is also part of the pre-counseling stage. Risk assessment determines the level of risk posed by the sexual behavior of the client in contracting the virus. The counselors also validate the data that the client fills up and ensure as much as possible that all concerns of the client are addressed.
Blood Extraction –  In its mass testing events, Loveyourself uses Community Based Screening (CBS). Testing kits are used - a finger is pricked with a sterile lancet, and a few drops of blood are placed onto the test kit. This is done by our trained counselors. Once this is done, all you have to do is wait.
Post-Counseling– with CBS, all you need is 10 to 20 minutes to find out what your status is. The kits are designed to validate if a person is reactive to either HIV 1 or HIV 2 or to both within minutes. The counselor discusses management of one’s health through the paradigm of the Triangle of Self CARE and what actions to take if the result is reactive.
Reactive or Nonreactive?
Yes, you read that right. The results that will appear are either “nonreactive” or “reactive”. There can only be two outcomes when you get your results.

Nonreactive. If the result turns out that the client does not react to an HIV antibody or antigen, they are advised by counselors on how they can maintain their status and practice safe sex always. Clients are also encouraged to get tested regularly.  Sexually active people are advised to get tested every three months, as this is the accepted window period, the time between when one gets infected by the virus and the time the body develops antibodies or antigens detectable by test kits.

Reactive. If the kit yields a line in the HIV 1 and or 2 sections, the client will have to fill out another form which will be sent to the  Department of Health’s STD AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory for confirmatory tests. Final results usually take up to 1 month.
While waiting for the confirmatory results, clients have the choice of going to LoveYourself Anglo’s Treatment Hub or to RITM in Alabang for baseline testing. This type of test will determine if a person will be administered with Antiretroviral Therapy (ARV) or if other medical concerns have to be addressed first.
Here to Help
Loveyourself stands by its belief that a “reactive” result is not a death sentence, nor will it hinder anyone from reaching their dreams. With proper lifestyle adjustment, People Living with HIV (PLHIVs) can still enjoy life to the fullest.
At Loveyourself, we endeavor to cater to different types of clients’ needs. With this, we have devised various kinds of services that will allow Loveyourself clients to feel that they are valued and are treated appropriately depending on their needs.
Loveyourself Solo is the regular testing for individual clients carried out in our clinics LoveYourself Anglo and LoveYourself Uni. There’s also Loveyourself Purple for couples -  important for those who want to know the status of their partner and how they can lead a healthy sexual life. Finally, there is Loveyourself Platinum which gives premium priority to the confidentiality of the client and can only be done by appointment.
Occassionally, LoveYourself holds mass testing events to reach out to sectors of the population not usually reached out to by our clinics at LoveYourself Anglo and LoveYourself Uni. These mass testing events are done with greater confidentiality and speed with streamlined processes. For those who are interested, the next mass testing event, dubbed as Incognito 2.0, will be on 27 November 2016.
No matter which service you avail, Loveyourself protects the identity of its clients and ensures that they are in a safe and secure place. Clients who test reactive may avail of the Life Coaching service for guidance and support.

Photos by: Mark de Castro, Jamie Well Titan

Photo editing: Kevin de Dios