Voluntary HIV Counselling and Testing

VCT - What is it?

VCT stands for voluntary counselling and testing . VCT is when a person chooses to undergo HIV/AIDS counselling so that they can make an informed decision about whether to be tested for HIV. The government is encouraging all of us to come forward to be tested for HIV. it believes that if many of us get tested, even though we may not be sick, this will help to lessen the amount of stigma associated with the HIV test. Also, if we find out as an earlier stage, that we are infected with HIV, we can:

  • Learn more about the virus and how it effects our body.
  • Look after our health so that we stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible
  • Get information and counselling around how to live positively with the virus. This means learning to accept the fact hat we are HIV-infected, seeking emotional support, eating a health diet, learning how to control the amount of stress in our life, making sure we don't become re-infected, and planning for the future.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of opportunistic infections so we can get them treated promptly
  • Find out what resources are available within our community to help us manage our HIV status
  • Find out about prophylatic drugs. These drugs do not cure HIV/AIDS, but can prevent us from getting some oportunistic infections that are common with people living with HIV/AIDS eg. T.B and some kinds of Pneumonia
  • Access Nevirapne. This is a drug available at a number of hospitals and clinics that lessens the chance of a pregnant mother passing the virus onto her baby.
  • Get emotional support by seeking counselling and joining support groups.
  • Make sure that we don't infect anyone else or get re-infected ourselves
  • Learn how to manage the stress in our lives

If we are not infected with HIV, VCT can motivate us to stay HIV antibody negative, and to accept those who are infected.

Opportunistic Infections

These are the kind of infections that your body would normally be able to control if your immune system was strong. Unfortunately, when HIV destroys your immune system, these diseases flourish. They are called opportunistic because if your immune system was strong, they would not be able to flourish. Some examples are thrush of the mouth and TB.

Counselling can empower you!

What is counselling?

Counselling is a private conversation with a specially trained person aimed at helping you to help yourself. Counselling encourages you to explore possible solutions to your problems, and to consider the impact that certain decision may have on your life. HIV/AIDS counselling provided at VCT sites is free and confidential. This means that the Counsellor cannot tell anyone about your result without your permission. You must receive face-to-face counselling before you have the test. This is known as pre-test counseling, and is aimed at ensuring that you make a well-informed decision about whether to have the HIV test or not, and encourages you to explore the possible impact that having the test may have on your life.

Once the test has been done, you will receive post-test counselling. This is the counselling during which you will receive your result. We know that people who have good pre and post-test counselling are able to cope better with their results, and are more likely to look after their health, and protect others from infection. The counselling that you may have once you already know your result is known as on-going counselling. On-going counselling helps you to live positively with HIV and provides you with support and guidance with regard to any problem that you may face. Having the HIV anitbody test is you own personal decision. No one can force you to have it. Here is some more information about the different kinds of counselling:

Pre-Test Counselling:

This is the kind of counselling you get before you decide whether you want to have the HIV antibody test. Some of the issues the counsellor will discuss with you are:

  • Why you decided to come for counselling
  • What counselling is, and the role of the counsellor
  • What your personal history is
  • Whether you have any health problems
  • What your risk of being HIV infected is
  • What you know about HIV/AIDS
  • Information about HIV/AIDS, including the test procedure and what people who are HIV infected can do to make sure that they stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
  • What alternative there are for solving your problems
  • Which issues you want to tackle first
  • What impact you think a positive, indeterminate or negative result would have on your life and how you think you would react to receiving them.
  • The advantages and disadvantages for you to having the test
  • What king of support system you have including who you would be able to tell if you tested HIV antibody positive.
  • How you have coped with problems in the past.

Post Test Counselling:

This is the kind of counselling you get after you have had the test. During this session the cousellor will:

  • Give you your test result.
  • Let you express your feeling about being HIV antibody positive, negative or indeterminate. Help you to revisit the issues you raised during the pre-test counselling session, including any plans you many have made.
  • Discuss any immediate problems and help you to decide on a plan of action
  • Answer any questions you may have and provide you with useful information
  • Discuss positive living
  • Give you positive information on what resources there are in your community to help you.

HIV antibody test results are never given over the phone. You can only receive your result face-to-face

Ongoing HIV/AIDS counselling

Ongoing counselling is the king of counselling that happens after you have received your test result. The aims of ongoing counselling are to:

  • Help you to manage the impact that HIV has on your own life, and the lives of the people around you.
  • Encourage you to take control of your health and take charge of your life.
  • Help you to accept your result and live positively with HIV/AIDS
  • Explore the advantages and disadvantages of telling other people about your status.
  • Assist you in tackling your problems
  • Provide emotional and psychological support
  • Help you to strengthen your support system
  • Help you to plan for the future
  • Explore issues around death and dying
  • Refer you to community resources

The Window Period

When HIV first gets into your body, your immune system recognizes it as harmful and makes special disease fighting cells called antibodies. Your body takes between 6 and 12 weeks to make these antibodies. The HIV antibody test looks for these special cells and not for HIV itself. If you have an HIV antibody test before your body has made these fighting cells, the test will be HIV antibody negative, even though HIV is in your body. This time when you have HIV in your body but your immune system has not made antibodies yet is known as the WINDOW PERIOD. It is important to remember that if you have HIV in your body, even if you have tested HIV antibody negative, you can still pass the virus onto someone else if you have unprotected sex. If you get tested after 12 weeks, your test will be HIV antibody positive. This will mean that you have HIV.

What is Positive Living

The main benefit of finding out your HIV antibody status is that you can find out how to live positively with HIV. Positive living means living with HIV/AIDS in such a way that you take control of your own physical, emotional, social and spiritual life. It means keeping a positive outlook and not giving up. Here are some of the things that you can to to help you live better with HIV

Accept your feelings

Finding out that you have HIV may make you feel very angry and confused. Some people feel very sad, some go into shock and may feel numb, and others are very scared. Many people feel totally overwhelmed and helpless. It's important to realize that you are undergoing a crisis so these feelings are normal. Accept them, because feeling this way is part of the process of coming to terms with your HIV status. The strength of these feelings will lessen over time but a lot of people may sleep badly, not feel like eating, and feel tearful for a few weeks after being told they have HIV/AIDS. If these feelings are still very strong after about three weeks you may need to seek professional help from a counsellor or doctor.

Control the Stress in Your Life

Stress is known to make your immune system weak. If your immune system is weak it will not be able to fight infections well. You can lesson the amount of stress in your life by:

  • Finding out about how to live positively with HIV
  • Seeking counselling
  • Sharing your feelings with a friend or counsellor
  • Joining a support group
  • Setting goals for the future
  • Making sure that you eat a well balance diet
  • Putting aside some time every day to relax. You may relax by listening to music, reading, going for a walk or meditating.
  • Tackling your problems one at at time. Trying to solve them all at once is stressful.

Look after your health

Find out as much as you can about HIV/AIDS and your own health. There are a lot of thinks that you can do to help yourself stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible:

  • Make sure that you get treatment for infections quickly. This will keep your immune system stronger.
  • Find out about antiretroviral drugs
  • Try and avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). These may also be called sexually transmitted infections (STI's). STD's can weaken your immune system and also make it easier for you to get re-infected with HIV. If you do pick up an STD, get it treated as soon as possible. It's important to finish your treatment, and to get your partner/s treated too otherwise they will just give it to you again!
  • Use condoms to prevent re-infection with HIV and STD's.
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes three times a week.
  • Attend an HIV clinic. Phone your local provincial hospital and ask them where the nearest one is.
  • Ask your doctor about prophylactic treatment
  • Eat a well balanced diet
  • Make sure that you eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Your local clinic or pharmacy can give you advise on good nutrition.
  • Take a multivitamin supplement if you can afford it (ask you to doctor or pharmacist to recommend one)
  • Don't smoke or drink alcohol excessively.

Anti-Retroviral Drugs

These are drugs that try to stop HIV from multiplying in the body. They cannot cure HIV/AIDS, but are good at keeping HIV-infected people healthier for longer. They are expensive and range in price from about R500.00 a month to R4000.00. The price is likely to drop in the future. Ask you local HIV clinic for advice.

Positive Living Ideas

  • Do things you enjoy
  • Keep a sense of humour
  • Seek spiritual/religious help if it feels right for you
  • Make as many of your own decisions as possible
  • Express your feelings by writing, talking to infected people, drawing, playing music or dancing
  • Fill you life with things that make you feel good about yourself
  • Help others

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This page last edited on 06 June, 2023

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