Voluntary Counseling and Testing or VCT is a process that is followed when a person wants to find out if they are infected with HIV. Voluntary means that a person decides on their own whether or not to have the test. In making the decision to be tested or not the person will have the chance to discuss the test with a trained counselor. The test is an accurate scientific test to show if a person has been infected with HIV. The test is usually conducted on a person’s blood. Most clinics use a rapid test, which means that the test results are available after about twenty minutes.
There are three main steps in VCT:
- Pre-test counseling where questions about HIV and AIDS and the test are discussed with the counselor
- When a person decides to have an HIV test, they need to sign a consent form
- After the test, the counselor gives the results in a post-test counseling session
The HIV Test
It is important to note that the HIV ante-body test can only tell if you are infected with the HIV. It cannot tell:
- When you were infected.
- How you were infected, or who the infection was from.
- Whether you have progressed to AIDS or not. Another test will have to be done to test whether the person has AIDS.
A counselor can provide ongoing support and also refer a HIV positive person to other health care professionals or organisations where they can get further help.
A list of updated VCT sites in South Africa can be found on National Help Line www.karabo.org.za .
IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT NOT ALL COUNSELLORS ATTACHED TO THESE VCT SITES MAY UNDERSTAND THE SPECIFIC ISSUES FACING WSW. IF YOU FEEL YOU NEED MORE SPECIFIC COUNSELLING WITH LGBT FRIENDLY COUNSELLORS YOU CAN GET ASSISTANCE FROM:
- OUT LGBT Wellbeing’s Clinic, 1081 Pretorius Street, Hatfield , Pretoria. Contact Elmie @ (012) 430 3272
- OUT LGBT Wellbeing’s Hillbrow Clinic, for now Fridays only, Cnr Esselen and Klein,
Hugh Solomon Building, Office G33, Hillbrow. Contact Trudie @ 082 520 7010
- Triangle Project, Cape Town, Unit 29, Waverley Business Park, Dane St, Mowbray, Contact Heather or Sharon @ (021) 448 3812
HIV Pre- and Post-Test Counseling
Why is pre-test counseling important? The decision to take an HIV test should not be taken lightly. HIV infection can lead to AIDS and often comes with emotional, psychological and social challenges. Women living with HIV, their partners, family members and close friends often also need support during this time. The purpose of pre-test counseling is to provide people, who are considering being tested, with information on how testing is done and the possible personal, medical, social, psychological, legal and ethical implications of being diagnosed as either HIV-positive or -negative. Pre-test counseling includes:
- Identifying the person’s reasons for testing
- Assessing the possible risk of HIV infection
- Exploring and correcting beliefs and knowledge about HIV infection and safer sex
- Providing information on how the test is done
- Dealing with the anticipation of the test results
- Guaranteeing confidentiality of the test results
- Obtaining informed consent
- Providing education on the giving of results and ongoing support
- Educating on the waiting period for results
Pre-test counseling is extremely important. It should not only be seen as a preparation for the HIV test, but also as an opportunity to educate people about HIV and AIDS and safer sex. It is important that you feel comfortable with your counselor so you can ask specific and intimate questions with regard to WSW if necessary.
Post-test counseling happens at the time of getting results. It helps people deal with the result, the implications of a positive or negative diagnosis, and helps to deal with the reality of their situation, and have a clear understanding of what their results mean and the options that are available to them.
Post-test counseling involves:
- Giving the results
- Listening to the persons concerns about her results
- Focusing on the person’s feelings and how the result may affect their lives
- Helping people make a plan for action for the future: this may include issues of disclosure, referrals to health care providers, finding ongoing support.
Many WSW have not perhaps considered HIV testing as a necessity. HIV is an issue for some WSW and therefore testing may be important for you. Remember to go to a VCT site in which you feel comfortable and confident that your particular needs will be taken care of.
All people that are sexually active are at risk of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). If you have more than one partner, and are not using protection, the risk of contracting a STI is even higher. Some of the STI’s are asymptomatic (no symptoms) and can have serious repercussions if not treated. To ensure optimal sexual health you should consult with your doctor or health care professional every 6 months for screening. Your health care professional will require a physical examination, urine testing and possible drawing of blood for the STI testing. All consultations are handled confidentially. Research has shown a link between the presence of an STI and increased risk of contracting HIV.