About Voluntary HIV Counselling & Testing

Stellenbosch University’s annual HIV testing campaign is back to challenge Maties to be sure of their HIV status. This year the campaign runs from Monday, 28th February to Friday, March 11th on Stellenbosch Campus in the Vrouevereeniging Hall (Neelsie between 9am and 4pm), and continues at the Health Science Faculty (Tygerberg Campus) from Monday, April 11th to Friday, April 15th. The campaign will focus on first year tertiary students at universities around the country.

  • What is voluntary counselling and testing (VCT)?
  • What happens during and HIV test?
  • What if my test result is positive?
  • What if my result is negative?
  • Why is it important to know my HIV status?
  • Are there disadvantages to knowing my HIV status?
  • What are my rights?
  • Who should get tested?

    If you are sexually active or thinking of becoming sexually active you should get tested.

    Where do I go for a test?

    Stellenbosch University Campus Health Service
    Weekdays: 08:00 - 12:00
    021 808 3496

    HIV/AIDS Helpline
    0800 012 322

    If you would like to give us feedback on your experience of these services or recommend services in other areas contact Monica du Toit.

    What is voluntary counselling and testing (VCT)?

    VCT is about getting to know your HIV status by taking an HIV test, and does not test for Aids. This confidential test will tell you whether you are HIV positive or negative. Voluntary means that the decision to go for the test is entirely your own choice. Confidential means that you have the right to absolute privacy.

    What happens during and HIV test?

    VCT is a three-step process that involves pre-test counselling, the test and post-test counselling.

    Phase 1: Pre-test counselling

    The pre-test counselling will prepare you for the test and will help you to anticipate the result – whether it turns out to be HIV positive or negative.

    A trained counsellor will explore your reason for attending and explain shared confidentiality. The counsellor will explain to you what HIV is, explore your level of risk of having the virus, correct any misconceptions you may have and explain what the HIV test is. The counsellor will also explain the importance and the benefits of knowing your HIV status. In addition, he/she will discuss the different options available to you and give you an opportunity to ask any questions you may have about HIV or the HIV test. You will be encouraged to talk freely about your fears and concerns. You then give informed consent/dissent freely.

    Phase 2: The HIV test: How it is conducted

    There are three common types of HIV antibody tests: the Elisa test, the Western blot test and the Rapid test. The Elisa and Western blot test will require that you have a sample of blood taken. This blood sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing and the results will be received a week later. The Rapid test requires that the health worker take a drop of your blood by pricking your finger. A drop of this blood will be placed on the test kit where a chemical agent will be added. Your results will be available within 15 minutes. If the test is positive, a second Rapid test will be done to confirm the result.

    Current HIV antibody tests can only detect the antibodies when sufficient quantities have been produced. With new technology the time it takes before antibodies can be detected is decreasing, but there is still a period during which the antibodies cannot be detected in the blood. This is called the window period and can last up to 42 days. During the window period, you may receive a negative HIV test result, but still have the virus in your body. It is recommended that if you have had unsafe sex in the past six weeks, you should have a second HIV test done six weeks later to confirm the result of a negative first test.

    All these tests are highly reliable and accurate.

    Phase 3: Post-test counselling

    During the post-test counselling phase you will be given the results of your test simply and clearly. The counsellor will allow time for the results to sink in and to check your understanding. There are a number of basic issues that the counsellor can help you with, which includes dealing with your immediate emotional reactions, checking if you have immediate support available and identifying your options and/or resources.

    What if my test result is positive?

    A positive test result means that you have been infected with HIV. The counsellor will help you work through some of your feelings of shock, fear and anger. You will have the opportunity to talk about whether or not you are going to tell your family and your sexual partner. The counsellor will also discuss healthy and positive living with you.

    Being HIV positive does not mean that you have no future. Many people live happy, healthy and productive lives with HIV. But it does mean that you will have to learn about keeping your immune system healthy, lowering stress levels and building up a good support system. It is also important that you protect yourself and your partner from further infection. You will also be given information about your rights as someone living with HIV. Your counsellor will refer you to further supportive counselling and medical help whenever you need it.

    What if my result is negative?

    The counsellor will explore with you the various ways of keeping yourself and your sexual partner(s) safe from contracting HIV. He/she will help you understand the window period and the possibility of needing to be retested. Even if you tested negative, your counsellor will share with you the importance of taking responsibility for avoiding future ‘risky’ behaviour and of using condoms. If you and your partner have come together for the test and one of you is HIV positive, you may need support as to how this affects your relationship.

    Why is it important to know my HIV status?

    As a student at a higher education institution, you are in the high-risk age group of HIV. It is very important that you know your HIV status. Deciding whether or not to go for an HIV test is a difficult decision. While some people think that it is better not to know their status, there are many advantages to knowing your status. With this knowledge you can take control of your life and your future.

    If the result of my test is negative?

    You will be very relieved that you do not have HIV. You can begin to make sure that you practice safer sex and use a condom every time you have sex.

    If you have had unprotected sex (sex without a condom) recently, the virus might not yet show up in the test. This is called the window period. The counsellor will ask you to come back after six weeks for another test.

    If the result of my test is positive?

    This means that you have been infected with HIV. Knowing that you are HIV positive will help you to make informed lifestyle decisions. You can start to take care of your stress levels, eat a more balanced and healthy diet and live a healthier life. Knowing your HIV status will prolong your life. The earlier you are diagnosed the better!

    HIV doesn’t kill; opportunistic infections do. HIV attacks your body’s immune system so that you are at risk of getting a variety of infections. If you are HIV positive and know your status, you can become aware of the symptoms of the various infections and make sure that you get treatment as early as possible.

    You can make sure that you do not get re-infected with a different strain of HIV, by using a condom every time you have sex. You can also make sure that you protect your sexual partner(s) from becoming HIV positive.

    Knowing that you are HIV positive will allow you to plan for the future – for your own health and well-being, as well as that of your family and partner.

    Are there disadvantages to knowing my HIV status?

    Although there are many benefits to knowing your HIV status, there could also be negative consequences. In many families and communities it is difficult to disclose your status because of stigma and discrimination. Before you have a VCT, you need to talk to a counsellor and discuss all the possible outcomes of being tested. This will allow you to make an informed decision. Nobody can force you to have a test. It is also entirely up to you whether or not you disclose your status to anyone else. The advantages of knowing your status greatly outweigh the disadvantages. Deciding not to go for a test does not mean that you do not have the HI-virus.

    What are my rights?

    • A client needs to give consent, freely, before the test is conducted.
    • A parent/guardian needs to give consent if the child is younger than 14.
    • Any person with HIV or Aids has the right to confidentiality and privacy of the test and the test results. No one can give out information about a person’s HIV status without his/her permission.
    • The results of your test will not be used to discriminate against you in any way.
    • You as the client are under no obligation to make your test results known, but should consider disclosing your status to your sexual partner(s) so that they can undertake an HIV test, and if positive, receive the necessary care and treatment.
    • Any person living with HIV or Aids has the right to medical treatment and care.