File picture: Esteban Felix/AP

Cape Town – South Africans have been encouraged to make use of self-testing HIV kits now available at their local community pharmacies.

Before this year’s World Aids Day commemorations on Saturday, health experts say the test is 99% accurate and can be done in the privacy of your home. The test can be done if pregnant, breastfeeding and from the age of 12.

World Aids Day will be commemorated under the theme “Cheka Impilo – Know Your Status” and calls on all South Africans to take responsibility for their health and wellness.

According to Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) chief executive Jackie Maimin, South Africa has the largest and most high-profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7.2 million people living with HIV last year.

Maimin said HIV testing was essential for expanding treatment and ensuring that all people living with HIV could lead healthy and productive lives.

“There are now a number of approved HIV self-screening kits available from pharmacies in South Africa that allow people to screen for the virus in the privacy of their own homes – the tests are highly specific for the HIV virus with 99% accuracy and provide a valuable indicator of the presence of antibodies to HIV infection,” she said.

Previously, South African pharmacies were prohibited from selling HIV test kits, but that ban has been lifted.

“The self-screening tests work by detecting the body’s natural antibodies to HIV infection. In addition, the self-screening tests are completely safe to use during pregnancy and can be used from the age of 12 upwards. 

"The self-screening kits are not intended for use by people already on antiretroviral treatment,” Maimin explained.

However, she cautioned 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. 

"For this reason, 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 retest after a recommended 12 weeks.”

Professional counselling is also readily available at local community pharmacies to answer any questions, assist with the interpretation of results and help with referral to appropriate health facilities if necessary.

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