First things first: There is absolutely no shame in getting tested for HIV—it's one of the smartest, most responsible things you can do for yourself once you become sexually active. It's important whether you have sex regularly or you’ve only done it once, and that includes vaginal, anal, and even oral sex in some rare cases (read more about how HIV is transmitted here). According to the Department of Health, there were 1,098 newly diagnosed HIV cases reported in May this year, 48 percent higher than the same reporting period in 2016 and the highest number of recorded cases since 1984 (!!!). Thirty percent of the new cases were from the 15-to-24-year-old group, and 87 percent showed no symptoms at the time of reporting.
That's the thing about HIV—you could have it and be completely unaware, and it doesn't matter how old you are.
I went there on a Sunday morning, and it was packed with people waiting to be tested—a sight to behold as it is firsthand proof that more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of getting tested. There were couples, there were friends, there were single individuals, and then there was me—with my mom! I definitely didn't plan on getting tested with my mom; it just happened, and now she wants our whole clan and all her friends and officemates to go and get tested. So yeah, you can go alone or with a companion—whatever you're comfortable with.
At the clinic, friendly volunteers hand you forms to fill out then ask you to wait for your turn. Expect to be called two times but never by your name (they take discretion seriously). First, they call out your month and day of birth, then they call out the number on your form. When they extract blood, they make sure that the syringe is new and that the skin is sanitized. Then you can wait for the results in the reception area or come back for it the same day. Since it was a full house that Sunday morning, my mom and I stepped out for lunch then returned after about an hour and a half.
The volunteers don't just hand you the results; you get one-on-one time with a counselor in a private room, who will discuss the basics of HIV, AIDS, and STDs. To be honest, I was low-key freaking out when the counselor didn't open the envelope containing my results right away, but nobody panic (!), it's just protocol that they discuss the basics first. This is the time to ask all the questions you’re too afraid to ask anyone or even say out loud. It's a hundred percent safe and confidential space, so you can be completely honest without fear of being judged or slut-shamed.
If you have a non-reactive result, it means that there are no HIV antibodies found in your system. It’s a cause for celebration, definitely, but it doesn't mean that you can be complacent. Always use condoms to prevent getting infected and to prevent unwanted pregnancies; you can get free condoms and lubricant (another topic for another day) during counseling. It’s important that you get regularly tested for HIV; if you are sexually active, get tested every six months as it takes three to six months for HIV to be detected.
Now if you are reactive, take a deep breath—it doesn't necessarily mean that you have AIDS. HIV can lead to AIDS if left untreated, but with the right medical care and a healthy lifestyle, HIV-positive people can live long, full lives. If you are reactive, your results will be sent to a hospital for confirmatory testing and you will be referred to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG) in Alabang. You can read about the complete process here.
For me, the whole process took about half a day, and the time spent waiting was well worth it for my peace of mind. It also opened a conversation with my mom—as cringe-worthy as it was enlightening—which would've never happened in different circumstances, even though we have a Rory-Lorelai Gilmore kind of relationship. I wouldn't say that getting tested with the woman who brought you into this world is for everyone, but simply going to get tested? 10/10, would recommend.
The LoveYourself clinic is located at Unit 5, 3/F Anglo Bldg., #715-A Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong. They are open Wednesday to Saturday (12 p.m. to 7 p.m.) and Sunday (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Testing for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B is free, while other tests for STIs may come with a fee. You can contact them at +639178926611.