Frequently Asked Questions

About HIV

What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and is the name given to the virus that can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV damages a person’s immune system by killing cells which help the body fight infection, called CD4 cells. After a person is infected with HIV, the virus can stay inactive for many years and the person may not develop signs or symptoms of infection, so the only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.

The late stage of HIV infection, known as AIDS, occurs when the body’s immune system is badly damaged because of the virus and can’t fight infectious diseases. Although there is no cure for HIV, people infected with the virus today can be treated with medications that prevent the virus from multiplying (making more copies of itself) within the body. This treatment, known as antiretroviral therapy (ART), means HIV infection is no longer a death sentence. Taking ART regularly can enable a long and healthy life for people living with HIV.

What are signs and symptoms of HIV?

Signs and symptoms vary among people infected with HIV and may not appear for many years. Symptoms can be similar to those caused by other illnesses. Getting tested is the only way to know if you have been infected with HIV.

After initial infection of HIV (stage 1), the bloodstream contains high levels of the virus. At this stage, it can easily be passed to other people. Within 2 to 4 weeks of exposure, many people develop flu-like symptoms. Not everyone has these symptoms and it is possible for HIV to progress without any indication that the virus is present in the body. At this stage, symptoms may include:

  • Muscle and joint aches and pains
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Night sweats
  • Body rash
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands

It is important to consult a doctor if these symptoms occur, especially if you believe you may have been exposed to HIV. Detecting HIV early and getting on treatment can be lifesaving.

During stage 2, the virus is active but reproduces at very low levels. Those who follow a treatment program may remain in this stage for many decades, possibly for the rest of their life. Without treatment, this stage lasts around 10 years but treatment can reduce the virus in the blood.

If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (stage 3). Some of the more common symptoms of AIDS include:

  • Blotches under the skin or in the mouth and nose
  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea lasting longer than 1 week
  • Swollen glands
  • Constant tiredness
  • Recurring fever
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Pneumonia
  • Weight loss
  • Mouth, anus, or genital sores

Conditions that commonly develop at this stage include tuberculosis (TB), fungal infections of the respiratory system, lymphoma, and hepatitis. A person is diagnosed with AIDS when their CD4 cell count reduces to less than 200 cells/mm3 or if they have opportunistic infections (infections that occur in people with weakened immune systems).

How can one get HIV?

HIV can spread from one person to another by:

  • Having anal or vaginal sex without using a condom with someone who has HIV
  • Sharing needles (while injecting drugs) with someone who has HIV
  • A mother with HIV may give it to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding
  • Receive blood / organ / tissue of a person with HIV

You cannot get HIV through:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Saliva
  • Sweat
  • Common toilet sites
  • Insect bites (mosquitoes etc.)
  • Casual contact – hugging, kissing, sharing food / utensils, shaking hands

About HIV self-testing

What is HIV self-testing?

HIV self-testing is a way to screen yourself for HIV anywhere, anytime. HIV self-testing kits include easy-to-follow instructions and can be completed in a location of your choosing, either alone or with support from a trusted individual in-person or virtually.

HIV self-testing involves taking your own fluid specimen (oral fluid or blood) and completing steps to detect the presence of HIV antibodies. Some self-testing kits involve taking a blood sample and some involve taking an oral fluid sample. Through Safe Zindagi, we offer oral fluid-based HIV self-testing kits. You can order a kit here.

HIV self-testing is only a screening test – you need go to a clinic for a confirmatory test if you screen positive. If you screen negative, it is recommended you practice risk-reducing behaviors, like using condoms, and test again every 3 months.

Why is HIV testing important?

It is important to test for HIV regularly if you think you may be at risk of HIV. If you acquire HIV, detecting it early and starting treatment as soon as possible can lead to a longer, healthier life. It also helps to keep your spouses, children, partners and family safe.

Through Safe Zindagi, you can order a HIV self-testing kit for your spouse or partner, with their consent.

What are the advantages of HIV self-testing?

HIV self-testing is easy to perform and allows you to screen for HIV whenever and wherever you want. With HIV self-testing, you do not have to travel or wait in lines at a facility to screen for HIV. Test results are available quickly, within 20-40 minutes. A positive HIV-self-testing result should always be confirmed with an HIV test at a health facility.

Who should take HIV self-testing?

HIV self-testing is recommended for anyone who may have been exposed to HIV, who is 18 years or older, and has never tested positive for HIV. Please do not complete HIV self-testing if you are taking antiretroviral therapy (ART).

What kinds of behaviors put me at risk for HIV?
  • Sex (vaginal, oral or anal) with multiple sex partners
  • Sex with someone who is living with HIV or whose HIV status you don’t know
  • Sex without using a condom
  • Sharing needles while injecting drugs
What are the different types of HIV self-testing kits available globally and in India?

Globally:

There are two types of HIV self-testing kits

1. Finger-prick test: A blood sample is taken from the finger by a lancet and the results are available in 20-40 minutes.
Examples: INSTI HIV Self-Testing

2. Mouth-swab test: Oral fluid sample is taken using a swab by brushing the oral cavity and the results are available in 20-40 minutes.

Both types of HIV self-testing kits have a sensitivity and specificity of more than 99%.

India:

There is only one type of HIV self-testing kit which is DCGI approved and is available on Safe Zindagi:

1. Mouth-Swab test: This kit is manufactured by Invex Health and is called MORCHECK. This is an Oral Mucosal Transudate which uses Lateral flow Immunochromatographic Assay to detect antibodies against HIV 1 and 2 infection that are produced by the body in response to HIV infection.

What kind of HIV self-testing kit is available through Safe Zindagi?

Through Safe Zindagi, you can order the MORCHECK HIV self-testing kit, which uses oral fluid to detect HIV antibodies. MORCHECK is a 3rd generation, single-use, visually read, in-vitro immunoassay rapid antibody test.

Benefits of using an oral HIV self-testing kit include:

  • It is safe to use
  • No blood, needles, lancets or syringes
  • Convenient to use anywhere
  • Quick availability of results within 20-40 minutes
How does the MORCHECK HIV self-testing kit work?

The MORCHECK rapid antibody self-testing kit detects antibodies to HIV Type 1 (HIV-1) and Type 2 (HIV-2) present in oral fluid specimens.

How soon after being exposed to HIV will the self-testing kit detect HIV?

It takes one to three months after exposure before HIV antibodies can be detected. If negative, it is recommended to repeat HIV self-testing after 3 months if you believe you may have been exposed to HIV.

How should I store the kit and for how long?

The HIV self-testing kit has an 18-month shelf life (best before 18 months after manufacturing date). The kit can be stored anywhere with a temperature from 2 to 30 degrees Celsius. Do not freeze the kit.

How accurate is the MORCHECK HIV self-testing kit?

The MORCHECK HIV self-testing kit has 99.3% sensitivity and 99.3% specificity. This was tested through 21 clinical evaluations involving 10,775 people.

What does the kit contain?

Inside the HIV self-testing kit, you will find:

  • 1 foil pouch containing oral fluid test strip
  • 1 capped test tube containing oral fluid sample buffer (1 ml)
  • 1 oral fluid sample collection swab
  • Detailed instructions for use
How much does the HIV self-testing kit cost?

Through Safe Zindagi, the kit is available free of cost!

Are there instructions available for HIV self-testing?

Yes, you can view detailed instructions here. When conducting HIV self-testing, you can receive real-time help and support from a Safe Zindagi virtual counsellor.

Completing HIV self-testing

How can I get an HIV self-testing kit?

You can order an HIV self-testing kit from this website. Go to “order now”, and follow the instructions to register and order a kit. You can choose whether to have the kit delivered to an address of your choice, or pick up the kit from a designated location. The pick up locations are fixed. You can select a location from the list available when ordering your kit. If you have any queries while ordering the kit, please get in touch here.

Where can I complete HIV self-testing?

You can complete HIV self-testing at home or any other comfortable location.

How long does it take to complete HIV self-testing?

It takes about 5 minutes to carry out the kit instructions, and takes 20-40 minutes to see the results. You should wait to view the result after 20 minutes, but no more than 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, the test will be invalid.

What is assisted self-testing?

Assisted self-testing involves having real-time support, either in-person or virtually, from a healthcare worker or counsellor trained to walk you through the steps to complete HIV self-testing and answer any questions you may have. This can be over a telephonic call or a video call using a convenient application like WhatsApp or Zoom.

When ordering your HIV self-testing kit, there will be an opportunity to select assisted self-testing. A personal virtual counsellor from Safe Zindagi will then get in touch with you to set up a date and time to complete the self-testing kit with remote support through video or audio communication. If you select a pick up location to collect the HIV self-testing kit, you can also seek in-person support from the doctor or healthcare staff at the selected facility.

What is unassisted self-testing?

Unassisted self-testing involves completing HIV self-testing independently without support from a healthcare provider. After selecting the unassisted option when ordering a kit, you will still receive information and instructions for HIV self-testing. If you select unassisted testing, it is important to review the instructions on how to complete the test. You can view instructions here.

After selecting unassisted, you can reach out to Safe Zindagi staff if you would like additional support from a virtual counsellor at any point. You can message your personal virtual counsellor assigned to you over text message or WhatsApp, or get in touch here.

How do I carry out HIV self-testing accurately?
  • Brush your upper gum up and down from left to right and then from right to left. Repeat on the lower gum.
  • Put the brush in the test tube and move it up and donwn for 8 minutes. Gently dip the test strip in the test tube. Wait for 20 minutes (but not more than 40 minutes)
  • One line on the swab means you are HIV negative. Two lines on the swab means that you have screened positive and will need to take a confirmatory test at a clinic.

View the instructions at How to use the self-testing kit

How do I interpret the results of HIV self-testing?

After completing the steps of HIV self-testing, lines will appear on the test strip.

One line on the test strip means that HIV antibodies were not detected and your screening test is negative. It is recommend to test again after 3 months. You should practice risk-reducing behaviors, like using condoms, and consider taking PrEP (learn about PrEP here: https://prep.yes4me.net/ or talk to your virtual counsellor).

Two lines on the test strip means HIV antibodies were detected and your screening test is positive. This does not mean you are HIV positive – the kit is only a screening test. Please go to an integrated counseling and testing centre (ICTC) or a clinic for a confirmatory test. Find a clinic here.

How do I share HIV self-testing results with a healthcare provider or virtual counsellor?

After completing HIV self-testing, you can take a picture of the test kit after 20 minutes and before 45 minutes. Share the picture on WhatsApp with your virtual counsellor or directly upload the result on your profile. Access your profile here

The virtual counsellor will contact you to support the next steps based on your HIV self-testing result.

What does a negative HIV self-testing result mean?

A negative result means that HIV antibodies were not detected and your screening test is negative. However, if you have continued risk of acquiring HIV or believe you were exposed to HIV in last 3 months, it is recommended that you repeat HIV self-testing in 3 months.

What does a positive HIV self-testing result mean?

A positive result means HIV antibodies were detected and your screening test is positive. A positive HIV self-testing result should be immediately followed up with a confirmatory test at a government or private clinic. Please go to an integrated counseling and testing centre (ICTC) or a clinic for a confirmatory test. Find a clinic here.

Ordering an HIV self-testing kit

How can I order an HIV self-testing kit?
  • Click the "Order Now" option.
  • Enter your mobile number.
  • Select to have the kit delivered by courier or pick it up from a location near you.
  • Select the 'assisted' option if you would like a virtual counselor to assist you on a call while you carry out HIV self-testing
How can I receive an HIV self-testing kit by courier?
  • When ordering your kit, provide an address of your choice for the kit to be delivered to
  • Provide a mobile number for delivery contact
  • The courier agent will deliver the kit to the provided address
  • After placing your order, you will receive an Order ID
  • Provide the Order ID that you receive from Safe Zindagi to the courier service when receiving the kit

About counsellor support

Who are virtual counsellors?
  • Virtual counsellors are Safe Zindagi trained health workers who can provide you confidential assistance during the process of ordering and completing HIV self-testing
  • After ordering a kit, you will be assigned a virtual counsellor (also known as vCounsellor) who will be your personal counsellor
  • Anytime you have a question or need support, you can contact your personal virtual counsellor
  • Virtual counsellors are committed to keeping your information and results safe and confidential
About Safe Zindagi
  • Yes4Mme is an online platform funded by USAID and PEPFAR and implemented through Program ACCELERATE, in partnership with the National AIDS Control Organization of India. Program ACCELERATE is led by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. -Safe Zindagi aims to offer online information and services for HIV testing, prevention, treatment, and retention in care through the public and private sectors of India.
  • If you have further questions, please get in touch here.
Why be tested for HIV?

Being tested is the only way to confirm if you have HIV. You may be nervous about the results, but early detection has many benefits like:

  • Early diagnosis allows you and your doctor to begin developing a treatment plan that could ward off complications and infections and provide years of healthy living.
  • Left untreated, HIV can cause life-threatening health problems.
  • Early diagnosis alert you to avoid high-risk behaviour that spreads the disease to others.
  • Being tested can eliminate the anxiety of not knowing your HIV status.
Who should be tested for HIV?

If you think you have been exposed to HIV, you should be tested. You're at greatest risk for acquiring HIV if you:

  • Share drug needles or syringes
  • Have anal sex without a condom, especially receptive anal intercourse
  • Have sex with an infected person without using a condom
  • Have vaginal or anal sexual contact without using a condom with someone whose HIV status is unknown, especially those who are at high risk for acquiring HIV
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease such as syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydial infection, gonorrhoea and bacterial vaginosis, which appear to increase susceptibility to HIV infection during sex with infected partners
When should I be tested for HIV?

Most tests look for antibodies produced by your body to fight HIV infection. These antibodies don't develop immediately but emerge within a few weeks to six months of being infected. The average time for antibodies to develop is three to four weeks.

It is not effective to get tested immediately after you think you may have been infected. If you do so, you should be re-tested in three months and then again at six months if your test results are negative. During this period of testing, avoid all behaviour that could spread HIV to others, such as unprotected sex and sharing needles or syringes. Consult with your doctor or nurse or the health care providers who perform your HIV test for more information.

Missed Call - +91 9700710071 and Helpline - +91 9700710071

Where can I get tested for HIV?

HIV testing is available at SafeZindagi.in throughout the year. All our Sexual health managers will assist you and can support you to get tested in private labs, ICTC labs, YRGcare own labs (ICC), HIV test through self-testing kit and other hospitals and clinics. Some sites offer free of cost and some are in discounted price.

Are HIV test results kept confidential?

This testing is usually confidential, but not anonymous. it means no one has access to your test results since your name is never recorded at the test site. Confidential testing means that you and the health care provider know your results, which may be recorded in your medical record and may be available to those who have legal access to your medical record. This may include lab/ clinic (Private or public) in certain circumstances.

Most testing sites provide HIV and AIDS counselling, where our counsellors privately discuss the test, HIV, risky behaviour and ways to protect yourself from HIV and AIDS. Counsellors also discuss test results and offer support and recommendations, if necessary.

What if I test positive for HIV?

If you test positive, this does not mean you have AIDS or that you will develop AIDS. It means you are carrying the virus that can cause AIDS and you can infect others. You should begin an HIV management plan and take precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

If you are HIV positive, our health manager will arrange appointments with a doctor as soon as possible about an HIV care plan. Early diagnosis and consistent care are essential for your health. Counsellors or doctors are available and will work with you to develop a care plan or refer you to a health care professional who can provide care. Your counsellor or doctor also can refer you to support networks and resources in your community. You're not alone. Seeking the support of others can help you deal with your diagnosis.

How a new client books a test on SafeZindagi.in?

A new client needs to follow any of one step for booking a test, mentioned below: -

  • Clients need to visit SafeZindagi.in website Browse and clicking the Book a Test/Get Tested option
  • Need to click on advertisements, encouraging them to book a HIV Test.
  • Use a link provided by a vCounsellor (our health managers) who has engaged and shared with a client.
  • By engaging him/herself with our official social media platform
  • Client can call our vCounsellor/ Health manager they will book a test behalf of client.
  • If the user has done a test outside the platform and wants to re-confirm by doing another test on this platform
How an existing client books a test on SafeZindagi.in?

An existing client needs to follow any of one step for booking a test, mentioned below:

  • Clients need to visit SafeZindagi.in website Browse and clicking the Book a Test/Get Tested option.
  • Use his mobile number followed by OTP and login in the system
  • Have taken the Risk Assessment and now want to book a test
  • Want to get tested again, having been tested in the past
  • Have missed an appointment and need to take a new appointment
  • Want to Reschedule a booking
  • Based on above, proceed for book a test
How new or existing client can Book a Test?

Once you click on ‘Book a Test’ option the client will be prompted with the following:

  • The client will be prompted to provide a Mobile number. This will trigger an OTP to the provided number.
  • The Client will be prompted to enter the OTP received.
  • On successful verification of the OTP, the system will identify if it is an existing or new Client. The Client will be prompted to indicate - What would you like to do?
Types of tests in HIV?

Once you ‘Book a Test’ clients take HIV and STI related tests i.e. HIV Screening, VDRL and in some cases Hepatitis B. There are 2 types of tests for HIV: Screening test and Confirmatory Test.

The Screening test can be done in any of the partner Labs/Testing Centres and the Confirmatory test need to be done in the ICTCs (Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres) which are Govt. units.

Can I give my blood sample to collection boy (Phlebotomist)?

Under our ACCELERATE project, client can request for home collection. But we have these facilities in seven cities only i.e. Bangalore, Pune, Thane, Delhi, Kanpur, Chennai, Hyderabad with very nominal charges.

Can I also request for partner/s testing?

Yes, our project and work encourage partners testing in all our testing centres.

Can I request for "Reschedule an appointment"?

Yes, any new/ existing client bookings can be ‘Rescheduled’. In case of active booking an reschedule appointment, need to be change for new time and date.

While booking appointment, will system show nearest labs options?

While booking appointment, the Client will be prompted for permission to use the Current location. If the Client allows Location to be used, the City and Locality of the Client will be determined using the Google map services.

If the location is not allowed by the Client, the system will prompt the client to select the City. There will also be an option for the Client to allow the system to use their Current location.

The city can be changed at any point in the process. During the booking process, the Client has the option to add locality if not identified using the Use Current location option. The Client will be required to provide Name, Date of Birth, Age and Gender. In case the appointment is being booked for Partner/Spouse/Others, the system will prompt for Partner’s Name, Date of Birth, Age and Gender in addition to the Client’s details.

Note: For Name, a note will indicate that any name can be provided, which will be used only for communication. As while filling this information all the fields will be mandatory.

Should client need to provide consent before Book a test?

Client will have to provide their Consent to take this HIV screening test. The legalese for the Consent will be provided by the ACCELERATE project team. The option available will be "I agree to the terms and conditions". The Consent page will also include an option - I would like to provide feedback on the services rendered - Yes/No. The selection/non-selection will be saved with the Client’s profile and used to determine if the survey is to be sent to the Client. Consent for notifications will be taken for a new client on the system (if already taken on HIVST - will not be taken again)

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