Considering Emotional and Technological Components in HIV Testing

When working on solutions to help a large community or society, we should always remember to keep our focus on the individuals that make up that group. One example is how health clinics implement technological advancements in HIV testing without losing focus on the patient’s emotional well-being.

Of the 36.7 million people in the world living with HIV today, 40% of them are unaware of their HIV status.¹ In the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that people unaware of their HIV+ status are responsible for 40% of new transmissions of the virus in the United States.² Not knowing one’s status is a problem.

Advancements have led to test kits being able to detect the HIV virus in as little as 2 weeks after infection, and the test can be done within 20 minutes. This breakthrough makes it much easier for one to know their status and be able to seek medical care immediately, if needed, and prevent the spread of the disease. According to the CDC, “with early detection and treatment, a person living with HIV who takes HIV medicine as prescribed and gets and stays virally suppressed can stay healthy and has effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to HIV-negative partners.”³

But counseling must be provided alongside HIV testing. The emotional trauma that comes with knowing one’s status if the test comes back reactive is significant. While a person with HIV can stay healthy and lead a normal life with proper treatment, it is nonetheless life-changing. One needs to be mentally prepared to know their status or risk going into shock, an emotional breakdown, or even worse, risk harming themself or others.

With rapid test kits, we see a rise in the number of people visiting health clinics to get tested, and pressure to perform as many tests as possible. Many health clinics see the value of using rapid test kits but take measures to ensure they continue to give each and every patient the adequate attention they need before testing them. At many STD clinics, a certified counselor assesses a patient’s ‘readiness’ to know their status by ensuring the patient is aware of treatment options available, by having the patient think about their support network, and by working out an action plan with the patient on steps they could take to reduce the chances of contracting or transmitting the disease. Only when the patient is deemed ‘ready’ to know their status would they begin the test. By incorporating counseling into the testing exercise, health clinics build trust with their patients. They are more receptive to treatment options and tend to be more positive of their life ahead.

We can learn a lot from the way health clinics adopt innovation; the emotional and the technological elements are critical to consider when working on issues as personal as health care. By factoring both, we can ensure that solving one problem won’t create another.

Article written by: Ali Birouti

Ali is an aspiring social entrepreneur. He has 10 years of experience helping organizations develop software solutions. Currently, he is pursuing his MBA at IE Business School. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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