Do you know that you can buy an HIV self-testing kit and find out your HIV/AIDS status in a mere 15 -20 minutes?

South African pharmacies were prohibited from selling HIV self-testing kits, until recently.

“Following recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO), this ban has been lifted by the South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC) and HIV self-screening kits are now available for sale at pharmacies across South Africa,” explains Jackie Maimin, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA).

Maimin explains that one of the original reasons for the prohibition on the sale of self-screening kits was the implications an HIV positive result could have on a person testing at home with no support or counselling.

“Twenty years ago, a diagnosis of HIV infection was the equivalent of a death sentence and the negative stigma around HIV infection reinforced social inequalities based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality and culture. Thankfully the advent of effective treatment with new anti-retroviral treatment (ART) regimens has dramatically improved patient outcomes and today, a well-managed HIV positive person can expect to lead a relatively normal life.”

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Related: HIV/AIDS and women’s health (+ Get a free HIV test)

What is HIV self-screening testing?

HIV self-screening testing is a process in which a person collects their own specimen (biological fluid) and then performs a test using a supplied self-testing kit and interprets the result immediately, in the privacy of their own home.

Tests using saliva and blood are available and are considered equally accurate.

More South Africans need to know their status

According to the WHO, 40% of all people with HIV (over 14 million) remain unaware of their status.

This means that millions of people infected with HIV are not getting the life-saving treatment they need. It also means that they could, unknowingly, be spreading HIV infection to others.

In contrast, the WHO found that self-testing nearly doubles the frequency of HIV testing amongst certain population groups.

HIV self-screening should open the door for many previously untested people to find out their HIV status and get access either to treatment or prevention services.

Easy to use and accurate

According to the WHO, 40% of all people with HIV (over 14 million) remain unaware of their status

According to the ICPA, most HIV self-screening test kits are easy to use and give results within 15-20 minutes.

The test kits approved for sale in South African pharmacies are considered to be 99% accurate. “However, remember that it takes between six to 12 weeks for the body’s immune system to create antibodies to the HIV virus. As an HIV self-screening test is looking for the antibodies – and not the actual virus – it is possible to get a “false” negative test result during this window period,” says Maimin.

This is why she says it’s important to test regularly if you are at high risk of contracting HIV, and if you suspect that you may have been exposed to the virus, to re-test after a minimum of six weeks to confirm a negative diagnosis.

“It is very important to understand that an HIV screening test kit is for screening purposes only and that a diagnosis of HIV infection is only made after a second confirmatory test at an approved health facility.”

Do you know your status?

Maimin says that the ICPA hopes that the availability of self-screening kits will boost the numbers of people testing for HIV and therefore the number of people who know their status.

“Knowing one’s status is empowering, it allows an individual to make health-related decisions around early treatment if positive, or to actively engage in safer practices to stay HIV-negative.”

Source: Independent Community Pharmacy Association

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.