Last week, members of the senior class at St Mary’s, a private high school for girls in Waverley, an affluent Johannesburg suburb, ran an HIV/AIDS awareness week that, for the first time, included onsite VCT provided by a Johannesburg-based NGO, the Aurum Institute. School nurse Colleen Davis said parents had to sign consent forms, and most welcomed the initiative.
What is it like to be tested for HIV at school? IRIN/PlusNews sat down with four senior students, all 18 years old, to talk to them about the experience.
“It was my first time getting tested so I was terrified, I must be honest. In that five-minute period when you’re waiting for the [results] … I started thinking about what I’d done that could have possibly [put me at risk], like, ‘Well, I had an injection this one time’. Honestly, I know there was probably a minimal chance, but there is that chance.
“I’ve never really thought about being tested until this week. We don’t really talk about it as much as we should. I think the problem is that we all have this feeling that we are sort of stuck in this private-school bubble and we can’t be affected by AIDS. I think this week sort of brought it home and made us realize it’s not like that.”
“On the Monday morning I showed the entire school how to test, so I actually took an HIV test in front of the whole school, which was a fairly terrifying experience.
“My dad’s really big on HIV so I had my first HIV test when, I think, I was 12. I went for another one when I was 15, when [my friend] Steph and I went on an exchange [programme] to Australia.
“My dad will sometimes randomly bring home … [rapid HIV] tests because he gets them at work, so I don’t know how many times I’ve been tested, but it’s probably double figures, I would think … I still get nervous every time I do it, but I think it becomes easier every time you do.”
“At the beginning of the week, my parents weren’t a hundred percent sure it was okay for a school to be doing [HIV tests], but when I came home last night and explained to them how everything worked and showed them the programme, explained to them the pre- and post-test counselling, they were so impressed. They thought every school should do something like this.
“My 15-year-old little sister got tested and she was terrified, but she said it was a brilliant thing. I think when you’re sitting there, getting your test done, it brings it a lot closer to home.
“You start realizing how much it could actually affect you, even though you might not be infected, but you still know people who are, and you are still living with people who are.”
This feature is used with permission from IRIN/PlusNews – www.plusnews.org