Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Fear Not: A Primer On Your First HIV Test

By Hershey Homol

The first time for anything can be downright daunting—be it your maiden trip driving a car, your initial instance asking someone out beyond a coffee date, or even your sexual debut having a casual or romantic encounter.

Understandably, your first HIV test may scare the living daylights out of you. Maybe it’s the thought of blood extraction, or the possibilities on the result of the HIV test that leave your palms sweaty.

Here are a few reminders to help you prepare and build your confidence before your first HIV test.
Photo by Manny Marcelo for The Philippine Star

First HIV test reminders

1. No fasting required. “Unlike other medical examinations, HIV testing does not require any form of fasting,” says Rye Gaba del Carmen, LoveYourself Head of Operations. Go ahead and indulge on your favorite snack or drink before going to your scheduled test.

2. Have an open mind. “An open mind is all a client needs to have for this test,” says del Carmen. Let go of your fears, and if you still have reservations, you can approach LoveYourself's trained clinic coordinators and counselors. They will guide you through the entire process, even after you get the results.

3. Everything is kept confidential. LoveYourself assures the anonymity of each client and confidentiality of the testing process – whether taking the test through LoveYourself Platinum, one of the hubs, or a mass testing event.

Del Carmen explained that the testing facilities allow for a one-to-one encounter between the client and the counselor.

“Every client's identity and status are protected by the law. All our counselors are aware of this from the day they started volunteering with our organization,” Del Carmen added.

Testing Process

Each test lasts approximately three hours and with three stages—the Pre-Testing, the Blood Extraction, and the Post-Testing.

1. Pre-testing:
You will be first asked to fill out a National Epidemiology Center (NEC) form as required by the government. You will then undergo a pre-test counseling, which includes HIV 101 and risk assessment.

Del Carmen explained that HIV 101 and risk assessment are the most important steps in the process as these give the clients an awareness not just of the virus, but also of the necessary steps after the test, regardless of the result. “The goal of the pre-test counseling is to share information, clarify misconceptions, manage expectations, and gather support,” he said.

2. Blood Extraction:
After the pre-test counseling, your blood sample is then collected and you may have to wait up to two hours for the results.

3. Post-testing:
You will also undergo post-test counselling where the results of the blood sample are discussed by the counselor.

Two scenarios in discussing a client’s HIV test results

Nonreactive: If the client’s result turns out to be nonreactive to HIV antibodies, the counselor then encourages the client to practice safer sex and to still avail of HIV testing regularly.

Reactive: If the client’s result turns out to be reactive to HIV antibodies, his blood sample will then be sent to DOH / STD AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory for confirmatory tests which may take until three weeks to complete.

“In the meantime, ‘reactive’ clients are referred to RITM Alabang for free baseline tests, which will determine if the client needs to immediately begin with the Antiretroviral Therapy or to assist them in any other pressing medical concern,” Del Carmen explained. “We also assist them in looking for other options of treatment,” he added.

LoveYourself has always maintained that a “reactive” HIV test result is not a death sentence. With proper medication and further health protection, people living with HIV can and will continue to enjoy life’s blessings. LoveYourself provides a support system of counselors and other volunteers who can be the ultimate pep squad in helping someone live and continue to love, even with HIV.