NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 31 – A recent article published on a local daily sent shivers down the spine of thousands across Kenya and Uganda.
According to the article, research had raised queries on the reliability of results given at Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) centres.
Such were the shockwaves that the government immediately called an international press conference and invited the researcher who had been quoted in the article to clear the air. The conference, and subsequent paid-up press advertisements were categorical – the VCT centres are reliable and an easily accessible point for people to check their HIV status.
However, the damage had already been done, somewhat.
Liverpool VCT Director Dr Nduku Kilonzo says thousands of people who had earlier been tested at the centre have been returning for a fresh round of testing.
“The most common question being asked here is ‘am I HIV positive or negative?’” she says.
Why you should trust VCTs
“You should trust the results given to you by VCT counselors,” Dr Kilonzo begs, saying the tests are conducted thoroughly and repeated in cases of doubt.
“There is no one who is HIV infected who gets one test in Kenya and that is something I can guarantee,” she strongly affirms. “There is always a second test because in Kenya there is a protocol of serial testing.”
In all health facilities across the country, a second test is always conducted in the event of the first one returning a HIV positive result.
In the event that both tests produce conflicting results, a tie breaker test is usually conducted.
Also, for anyone to be put on Anti- Retroviral Treatment (ART) other tests are done to determine the CD4 count which is the main determinant if one should be put on ART or not.
CD4 count measures the immune system’s strength after a diagnosis of an HIV infection. A count of less than 500 makes one eligible for ART.
Normal CD4 count in adults ranges between 500 and 1500 though in children it is much higher.
Dr Kilonzo says people who are found to be HIV negative are normally advised to take another test after three months.
She says the doubts raised by the recent article pose a serious challenge for those living with HIV.
“Usually one is in denial, and any opportunity presented to him or her that the results given are wrong, completely changes everything,” she says.
Dr Kilonzo reassures that VCT counselors are properly trained and that testing procedures at all VCT centres are universally uniform.
In Kenya only 36 percent of the population has been tested for HIV.