Depending on the test, depending on the person, a negative test result can signify disappointment and sadness, or relief and joy.
A negative HIV test, however, particularly that of a new baby born to an HIV positive mother, can surely only be a cause to celebrate. We learnt that Patrick’s first HIV test was negative on 5th October 2011. Since we had a team in Ipusukilo on that day, we were able to share this news* with Christina almost immediately. I was not there to witness her reaction, I wish I had been. The good news was imparted by Legzai, the MSF Counsellor who by now knows Christina’s story quite well.
He told me later that she was ‘happy’. I remember her inscrutable reaction when she learnt of her HIV positive status in March 2011 – a reaction that masked a thousand fears. Knowing Christina as a shy and introverted person, I’m sure that the happy reaction witnessed by Legzai was typically subdued; but knowing also how worried she had been about Patrick, the test results will have inevitably provided her with elation and peace of mind.
In the last week, I have also learned that Patrick’s second HIV test, performed in December at six months, was also negative. We recommend our PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission) mothers to breastfeed their babies until they are one year old (introducing solids at 6 months). He will be retested at one year and then finally at 18 months.
I hope to see the family again before then. In December, I finished my mission with MSF in Luwingu and returned to England, but my Zambian story will continue – albeit with a different organisation. Thank you for sharing Christina’s journey with me. If you would like to stay in touch, don’t hesitate to contact me through this blog. Natotela and shalenipo! (thank you and goodbye in Bemba).
*Christina had to wait months for these results, despite the fact that the test itself yields results in less than one day. Babies must be tested using a different test to adults (which can be done on the spot and yield results in a matter of minutes), and samples from Luwingu must be sent around 200 miles away to Ndola in the Copperbelt. The courier service responsible for transporting these samples has unfortunately been largely responsible for these unacceptable delays.