This Saturday we ran an HIV testing and counselling camp with a local church in Navi Mumbai.
Its a church that is made up of people who live in shanty-towns. This outreach was an opportunity for the members to bring in friends and families and educate them about the risks of HIV. But more than just talk about HIV - those who came were encouraged to get themselves tested and remove any doubts they may have about their HIV status.
Testing is where the educational rubber hits the road. Its easy to hear a presentation about HIV. But when it comes to actually giving some blood and getting a concrete result - that's when the sweat breaks out. But that's also exactly where we want to be in helping people avoid contracting HIV in the first place.
Our team of 6 JSK staff arrived at 9 AM. In the set-up our LCD projector fell down and was not working. Prayers were said. It worked again. Mysterious ways.
The church folks did their work well. The went to the gullies and by-lanes and brought people. Daniel talked about HIV in Marathi to the crowd which had gathered at the school building being used for the camp.
Then the counselling and blood collection begain. Our 3 trained counsellors spent the afternoon talking - and were supported by the nurse who drew the samples and our other 2 staff who registered the participants and directed the traffic.
At the end of the day 77 people were tested.
77 adults, almost all of whom had some possible exposure to HIV - either through a personal exposure or through faithfulness to a partner who may have exposed themselves.
The good news: 77 non-reactive reports!
77 people who can take a deep breath and know that they are *not* HIV positive.
We are always thrilled when a person tests 'non-reactive.'
There is of course a small chance that they may have still contracted HIV if there has been less then 6 months from their last potential risk exposure - but we have yet to find someone who has tested 'positive' after an initial 'negative' test.
HIV is a terrific problem. Our team meets families every day who are groaning under the various levels of shame and pain that their HIV status brings with them. But here is a cohort of 77 people who are not HIV positive. They have so much to live for - and a big part of the post-test counselling was to help them maintain their negative status!
It also reflects the govt. estimates that in India we are not dealing with an HIV burden similar to some of the sub-Saharan countries. The Gov. of India estimates we have a 0.4% HIV positivity rate in the population - less than the 0.6% for the US.
These 77 people are not a pat on the back though - they are a challenge to not only maintain the 0.4% level - but make sure that new infections become less and less - and that people who already have HIV live longer and longer!