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 the 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
- 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
- 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:
- 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?
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%.
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://www.safezindagi.in/prep 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.
About HIV Testing
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)
What is PrEP?
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is an oral medication that provides protection from HIV. PrEP helps prevent HIV infection by stopping HIV from replicating inside your body.
When taken correctly, PrEP is effective to prevent getting HIV from unprotected sex or injection drug use. It is much less effective when it is not taken regularly. You still need to use condoms if taking PrEP to prevent the transmission of STIs.
Does PrEP work?
PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by up to 99% if taken correctly. For injecting drug use, studies show PrEP reduces HIV risk by at least 74%.
When taken regularly, PrEP can provide a high level of protection against HIV, but it is important to still use condoms to protect against other STIs like syphilis and gonorrhoea. PrEP does not prevent pregnancy.
It takes about 7 days of taking PrEP daily before it provides maximum protection for anal sex (bottoming), and 21 days for receptive vaginal sex and injection drug use.
No data are available for insertive anal sex (topping) or insertive vaginal sex.
How does PrEP work?
When HIV enters the body, it attacks healthy immune cells (https://www.avert.org/about-hiv-aids/what-hiv-aids).
The HIV virus breaks up the immune cells and infects the body. PrEP stops the HIV virus from replicating within immune cells and taking hold within the body, thus preventing an infection.
How effective is PrEP in preventing HIV?
PrEP has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the risk of getting HIV when taken daily. If PrEP is taken correctly/daily, studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection from sex by up to 99%. PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection from injecting drugs by at least 74%. Its efficacy reduces when taken inconsistently.
Who should be taking PrEP?
PrEP should be taken by those who are HIV negative and are at risk of getting HIV. Consider taking PrEP if:
- You have had vaginal or anal sex in the past 6 months and:
- You have multiple sexual partners and don’t always use condoms
- You have a sexual partner living with HIV (with an unknown or detectable viral load)
- You have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in the past 6 months
- You have taken post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) in the past year
- You are considering getting pregnant with an HIV positive partner
- You are a person who injects drugs and:
- You have an injection partner living with HIV
- You share needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
What are the side effects of PrEP?
PrEP, like other drugs, may have side effects which are usually mild and temporary. Side effects can include:
- Diarrhea, nausea or headache - These symptoms usually go away in a few days to weeks. Sometimes, they can be avoided by taking the pill with food or at bedtime.
Less common side effects, which are reversible, include:
- Reduced kidney function - It is important that kidney function is monitored at follow-up visits with your medical provider.
- Reduced bone density - In very rare cases, PrEP may reduce bone mineral density (bone strength).
These symptoms return to normal when PrEP is stopped.
If you are feeling any side effects from taking PrEP, please consult your medical provider immediately.
How should I use PrEP?
The usage mantra for PrEP is ‘One pill. Once a day.’ Remember, PrEP should be taken under supervision of a medical practitioner. Don’t try to buy it over the counter or share the medicine with your friend or your partner.
What is the recommended dosage of PrEP?
There are various combinations of drugs available for PrEP. Please consult your medical provider. A qualified medical provider will recommend an appropriate dosage for you.
How can I stop PrEP?
Talk to your medical provider before stopping or restarting PrEP. You should continue taking PrEP as long as you are still at risk of HIV. Also, you shouldn’t stop taking PrEP immediately if you think you are not at risk of HIV anymore. PrEP should be continued for 28 days after an exposure to HIV.
Does PrEP only work to prevent HIV, or does it work for STIs too?
PrEP is only effective for HIV prevention. PrEP can’t provide protection against STI/STDs such as Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or Chlamydia. The best way to protect against STIs is to use condoms regularly.
Do I need to use a condom when I am on PrEP?
Yes. It is strongly advised that you use condoms along with PrEP as additional protection against STIs, unless you are trying to get pregnant.
I am on PrEP. Do I still need to test regularly for HIV?
Yes! PrEP provides protection from HIV only when the tablet is taken every day. This leaves some risk of contracting HIV, so it is important to get an HIV test every 3 months when on PrEP. If you become HIV positive while on PrEP, you should start taking treatment for HIV as soon as possible with help from your medical provider.
What is the difference between PrEP and PEP?
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is taken daily by HIV negative people to prevent acquiring HIV. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is for people who may have been exposed to HIV to stop getting infected. PEP is for emergency situations and must be taken within 3 days of a possible HIV exposure.
How do I get started on PrEP?
PrEP should be taken only under the supervision of a qualified medical provider. Your medical provider will decide if you are eligible for PrEP and issue you a prescription.
Where can I get PrEP?
Once you have a valid prescription for PrEP from a qualified medical practitioner, you are eligible to buy PrEP from a pharmacy. You can also buy PrEP online. Register for PrEP here (link ).
How do I know if I am eligible for PrEP?
The best way to know your eligibility for PrEP is to consult a medical provider. You can also read the FAQ “How do I know if I am at risk for HIV” above. Your medical provider will help you complete the required tests to see if you can start PrEP. If you are HIV positive, you are not eligible for PrEP.
How do I order PrEP?
You can buy PrEP from a pharmacy once you have a prescription from a medical provider. You can also order it online – if you have a prescription, click here to order (link ).
How can I start PrEP?
If you think you’re at risk of HIV, consult a qualified medical provider.
To get started on PrEP, you need a medical provider’s prescription. Safe Zindagi can help you find a medical provider to consult about getting a PrEP prescription.
Call us on 9700720072: to get a call back from our v-Counsellor and book a provider consultation for free.
Process of starting PrEP on Safe Zindagi
Before getting a PrEP prescription, your virtual counsellor will inform you about the process. They will help you complete your tests as per the medical provider’s advice before starting PrEP. The mandatory tests that will be done are HIV, Hepatitis, Syphilis and Creatinine. Once these are done, the virtual counsellor will help you get an online appointment with your medical provider to start PrEP. You will receive the prescription after giving consent. The virtual counsellor will help you pick up or receive the PrEP medication after you make the payment. All tests and the medication is offered at a subsidised cost (>50%) through our platform.
Do I need to take PrEP daily?
Yes. One tablet, once a day, until your medical provider tells you to stop based on your individual circumstances.
How long should I be on PrEP?
You should continue to take PrEP if you continue to be at risk of HIV. If your risk of HIV changes, you should consult your medical provider to talk about stopping PrEP.
How many days should I start taking PrEP before sex?
It takes about 7 days of taking PrEP daily before there is enough medication in your body to provide protection for anal sex (bottoming). It takes 21 days of taking PrEP daily to provide protection for vaginal sex and injection drug use. Also, PrEP should be continued for 28 days after an exposure to HIV. Consult your medical provider before stopping PrEP.
Should I take PrEP every day even if I am not having sex every day?
Yes. You should take one pill every day even if you do not have sex every day to keep a consistent level of medication in your blood and tissues to provide protectio
What happens if I miss a PrEP dose?
If a dose is missed, PrEP should be taken whenever you remember. If two doses are taken by mistake, that is okay, only take one pill the next time. Otherwise, try to consistently take PrEP around the same time daily.
Can people living with HIV take PrEP?
No. PrEP is ineffective for people living with HIV. If a PrEP user receives a positive HIV result, treatment for HIV should be started immediately.
Can I use drugs and alcohol while taking PrEP?
Alcohol and drug use should not directly affect how well PrEP works; however, substance use may affect how consistently you take the medication. Missing doses can lower PrEP’s effectiveness.
Is PrEP safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
PrEP is safe to take during pregnancy as well as for women who are breastfeeding. PrEP can be started or continued during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
No adverse effects have been found among infants exposed to Truvada, one of the approved forms of PrEP.
Can I take PrEP if I am on contraceptives?
Yes, it is safe to combine contraceptives and PrEP.
Can I take PrEP if I take hormones?
Yes. It is safe to be on PrEP if you are taking gender affirming hormones.
Available data on PrEP use among transgender women suggest that it is very effective in protecting against HIV when taken as prescribed.
Can I take PrEP if I am on anti-depressants?
Yes, you can safely combine PrEP and anti-depressant medications.
You should let your medical provider know all medications, supplements, and vitamins you are taking to avoid potential drug interactions.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
What is an STD?
STD stands for Sexually Transmitted Disease, which includes diseases that spread through sexual activities like vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal sex or sometimes intimate skin-to-skin contact.
What do you mean by sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
STIs are infections that can be passed on from an infected person to you when you have unprotected sex, or close sexual contact with that person. The STIs could manifest as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD).
What is the difference between an STI and STD?
STI stands for sexually transmitted infection while STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. These terms are often used interchangeably, though technically they are different.
Sexually transmitted infections are infections caused by sexual contact that may manifest with symptoms or may also be asymptomatic (silent). Sexually transmitted diseases are caused by sexually transmitted infections and manifesting with signs and symptoms (symptomatic). However, irrespective of manifesting with symptoms or signs, the STIs needs to be treated/managed. Not all sexually transmitted infections manifest in symptoms or turn into a disease.
What are some of the common STIs?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed on when you have unprotected sex, or other close sexual contact with another person.
The common STIs include:
- Non Specific Urethritis (NSU)
- Genital herpes
Infections such as Hepatitis A, B and C may also be transmitted through sexual route. And, infections such as Candida (thrush) and Bacterial vaginosis can be transmitted by sexual contact.
How do I know if I have an STI?
The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Sometimes, the STIs may be asymptomatic i.e. the infection does not manifest any symptom or sign. Thus, if you have had a high risk sexual encounter, be it vaginal or anal or oral sex, it is better to consult health care provider.
What should I do if I think I might have a STI?
It is important to get consulted (and tested) with a health care provider, if you think you along with the partner(s) which whom you had sexual contact are at-risk. Many people with STIs don’t have symptoms (but carry infection), so it is worth getting tested even if you feel healthy. If you think you have an STI, you should consider having protected sex until you have had a check-up and treatment (if you are diagnosed with a STI).
What are the symptoms of STDs?
STDs usually manifest with the following symptoms. However, sometimes, STIs may not have any symptoms and signs to be noticed by the client or have only minor symptoms that are ignored by the clients. Thus you need to consult with a healthcare provider (and get tested for STI) if you think that you (or your partner) have put yourselves at risk of STI. Some of the common symptoms of STI include:
- Discharge or unusual (may be foul smelling) fluid that may be white or yellow that comes out of the vagina or penis (not semen) or anus.
- A change in discharge from the vagina.
- Itching or redness over genitals /genital area.
- A burning sensation or pain while urinating or passing stools.
- Bumps, sores, blisters, or warts on the genital area, lips or mouth.
- Bleeding between periods or after sex, in women.
- Pain during sex.
- Sore throat or unusual rashes over the body including palms.
Can STDs also affect non-genital areas?
Yes. STIs can affect mucosal surfaces such as lip, mouth, throat, anus and skin around your genitals, breast etc, meaning whichever vulnerable part of your body that came in contact with infectious material during the sex/close contact may potentially get infected. Common examples are oral herpes, peri-anal wart (wart around anus), gonorrhoea of throat. However, the extra-genital STI manifestations are also curable or manageable as like genital STIs. That is the reason why you need to be open and respond to the questions asked by the healthcare provider to facilitate proper clinical examination, STI tests and treatment.
Are STDs curable?
Many of the STDs are curable while some others don’t have cure but are manageable. You need to follow preventive measures as advised by the doctor and counsellor to avoid its complications and to prevent its transmission to your partners and children (especially, in case of pregnant women).
For the STDs/STIs, you (and your partner) need to take all the prescribed medicines in time and adhere to the other advises if any, such as repeat testing to make sure that the infection is cleared from your (and your partner’s) body. It is essential that you and your partner(s) need to be treated at the same time to avoid the chance of reinfection from your partner. Proper treatment will also decrease the chances of passing on the infection to your partners.
How simple or how difficult is the treatment of STDs?
In general, the treatment of most STDs is simple. It is important that the course of treatment is completed. You and your partner(s) get treated at SAME time, to prevent chance of re-infection. Follow up with the provider, at recommended intervals. Also, follow any advice given by the doctor about safer sexual practices.
What could happen if I don’t get treated for the STI which I have got?
Some of the STIs can cause permanent damage to your health and body system, if not treated properly. In addition, you may continue to transmit the infection to others. The damage caused may include:
- pain or swelling in the testicles
- complications of pregnancy
- spreading infection to your new born baby
- pelvic inflammatory disease in women
- weakened immune system
- eye, brain or nervous system, heart or brain damage
- cervical cancer
- liver damage or liver cancer
How frequently I need to get tested for STI if I am sexually active?
The national guidelines recommend screening for STI every three months if you are sexually active (due to that fact that often the STIs may not manifest any signs or symptoms). However, it is essential to consult with a health care provider at the earliest whenever you or your partner get signs and symptoms of STI.
Can a single lab test detect all the possible STIs?
No. There are many sexually transmitted infections. Each STI requires specific modality of testing and sampling for example urine or blood or swab test. The tests may also vary from simple microscopy tests to sophisticated molecular laboratory tests. Based on sexual and clinical history and clinical examination, the provider will advise relevant STI tests, as required. Again, providers will recommend for STI testing only when required, to decide or guide the treatment. Sometimes, you may also be treated by the provider without STI tests solely on the basis of your symptoms (syndromic management).
Will I get manifestation of STD immediately after I had sex with a partner infected with STD?
No. STIs, like any other infection, have an incubation period i.e. time between your first contact with the infection and when your body develops symptoms of the disease. During this period, the body recognizes the infection and produces antibodies in the blood; and sometimes the infectious agent or particle starts appearing in blood or urine or discharges. These antibodies or infectious particles are detected by the STI tests, prescribed by the doctors. Thus it takes around 1-2 week or more time (depending on individual STI) to detect the STI by a lab test. Hence, getting lab test or clinical examination immediately after having exposure to STI (such as high-risk sex) will not reveal any finding though such consultation with provider will help in deciding the treatment and follow up plan. In addition, immediate consultation will also help to assess the need for post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection.
How can I avoid getting an STD?
If you are sexually active, there are many things you can do to minimize the chances of getting an STD.
- Use condoms. Use it correctly every time you have sex (vaginal, anal or oral), can be very good protection against many STDs.
- Have fewer partners. The more people you have sex with, the greater your chances of getting an STD. Go with new partners to get tested.
- If it is relevant to you, prefer to be in active sexually active relationship with only one person, who has mutually agreed to be active sexually only with you.
- Don’t mix drugs and alcohol with sex. Getting drunk or high can affect your ability to make smart decisions about safer sex.
- Don’t use IV street drugs and never share needles. Many STDs are transmitted through blood.
- Avoid rough forceful sexual activities including group sex. Use lubricants in case of anal sex
- Consult with a health care provider in case you or your partner have symptoms and signs of STI. Be open and honest to the questions asked by the provider, which will help to provide best possible care to you.
- Vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and HPV are recommended to prevent hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV.
- In case of sex between two vulva owners (or—genital or vulvo-vulval contact), barriers such as dental dam or repurposed condoms will be of help in preventing STIs.
- Use of dental dams can also be considered during oro-vaginal (cunnilingus) and oro-anal (annilingus).
- Use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (medicines to reduce the risk of getting HIV in at-risk individuals) under medical supervision can also be considered.
Can I get an STD from oral sex?
Yes. A common misconception is that one cannot get an STD from giving or receiving oral sex. This is not true. STIs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and herpes are also transmitted through oral sex.
Can I get an STD from my partner, even though my partner has no symptoms?
Yes, many people who are infected with STIs have no symptoms but are still very contagious.
Can I get infected with STIs from kissing?
Yes. It is possible to get STIs such as Herpes through kissing.
When should I get tested for an STD?
If you think that you have put yourselves at risk of HIV (for example, had vaginal, anal or oral sex with a new partner) should be tested. If you or your partner have signs and symptoms of STD, you should consult a healthcare provider. Pregnant women should also be tested for STDs.
If you or your partner is sexually active with multiple partners, regular testing for STDs including HIV should be considered once in 3 – 6 months.
Can I get an STD more than once?
Yes. You can get infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis more than once, even if you’ve been treated before. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your partners are also tested and treated.
Can I get an STD from a public toilet?
It’s very unlikely. There is no evidence STDs can be transmitted by contact with public toilets.
What is ART?
The treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART is a combination of HIV medicines (called an HIV treatment regimen), and is taken every day.
ART is recommended for everyone who is living with HIV. People diagnosed with HIV should start taking ART as soon as possible. ART cannot cure HIV, but help people living with HIV live longer, healthier lives. ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
How long do I need to take ART?
Once started, ART should be continued for life.
Are there any side effects to ART?
Antiretroviral therapy, or ART, is safe but it can sometimes cause side effects. Most side effects from HIV medicines are mild and manageable; however, this may vary from person to person. Side effects from ART usually go away over time.
Different HIV medicines can cause various side effects. In addition, people taking the same HIV medicine can have different side effects.
People starting HIV medicines can talk to their health care provider about possible side effects and ways to manage them.
Where is ART available?
ART is available free of cost at government ART centers. These centers are established in most medical colleges and district-level hospitals.
ART is also available in the pharmacies for purchase, with a prescription by a registered medical practitioner.
What is the cost of ART?
In government centers, ART is available free of cost.
Elsewhere, the cost of the medicines varies depending on regimen, formulations, and brand in the market. On average, the medicine may cost around Rs 1500 per month (not including consultation fees or lab tests).
What do I need to get ART?
If you want to avail ART from government ART centers, you will need:
- ICTC report
- Valid address proof
How does ART work?
HIV attacks and destroys the immune system's infection-fighting CD4 cells (also known as CD4+ T cells). Loss of CD4 cells makes it hard for the body to fight off infections.
ART prevents HIV from multiplying (making copies of itself), which reduces the amount of HIV in the body (called the viral load). Having less HIV in the body gives the immune system a chance to recover and produce more CD4 cells. Even though there is still some HIV in the body, the immune system is strong enough to fight off infections and certain HIV-related cancers.
By reducing the amount of HIV in the body, ART also reduces the risk of HIV transmission.
The goal of HIV treatment is to reduce a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. An undetectable viral load means that the level of HIV in the blood is too low to be detected by a viral load test. People with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex.
How do I know if HIV treatment is working?
To know whether HIV treatment is working, your health care provider regularly monitors clinical and laboratory tests. These include:
- Viral load testing: With treatment, the amount of HIV virus in blood (or viral load) is expected to decrease over time and eventually reach an undetectable level.
- CD4 testing: with effective treatment and a decrease in viral load, the body will replenish immunity with infection-fighting CD4 cells.
Your health care provider will also monitor your wellbeing through clinical check-ups and monitoring of any symptoms.
What is viral load?
Viral load is the term used to describe the amount of HIV in your blood. Viral load tests measure the amount of HIV’s genetic material in a blood sample. The viral load test results are described as the number of copies of HIV RNA in a millilitre of blood.
What is CD4 count
CD4 cells (also known as CD4+ T cells) are white blood cells that fight infection in the body. It serves as an indicator of immune function in patients living with HIV. It is measured at the time of diagnosis of HIV infection, which serves as a baseline, and then every six months.
What should I eat if I am living with HIV?
Good nutrition supports overall health and helps maintain the immune system. A nutritious diet also helps people living with HIV better absorb HIV medicines.
In general, the basics of a healthy diet are the same for everyone, including people living with HIV.
- Eat a variety of foods across food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.
- Eat the right amount of food to maintain a healthy weight.
- Choose foods low in saturated fat, sodium (salt), and added sugars.
- Maintain hydration by drinking a sufficient amount of water daily.
What lifestyle will help me stay healthy?
A healthy lifestyle promotes wellbeing for anyone, including people living with HIV. A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Being physically active
- Getting plenty of sleep and rest
- Eating a balanced diet
If I am living with HIV, can I live with a partner?
If your partner is HIV negative, remember that HIV does not spread through the air, by sharing food, or by casual contact.
To prevent transmitting HIV to your partner,
- Use condoms during sex
- Take ART regularly and maintain an undetectable viral load
- Consider whether pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may be a good option for your partner
If your partner is also living with HIV,
- Use condoms during sex to avoid re-infection
- Support your partner to take ART regularly as well
- Do not share HIV medicine with your partner
- Support each other to maintain adherence to treatment and a healthy lifestyle
What if I skip taking ART?
You should take your HIV medicine regularly—adherence is necessary to reduce HIV infection in your body.
If you miss one dose of your medicine, you should take it immediately whenever you remember it. Continue taking medication from the next day at a regular time.
If you take medicines irregularly, HIV has a higher chance of replicating and developing mutations which will make ART less effective. Eventually, the regimen could become ineffective.
Can I have children if I am living with HIV?
- If you and your partner are both living with HIV: It is unlikely you will pass HIV on to children if you and your partner are both on HIV and your viral load is undetectable. The risk of transmission to children is minimal (<1%) in this case.
- If only you or your partner is living with HIV, the partner who is HIV negative can consider starting PrEP, which reduces the chance of infection, prior to trying to get pregnant
Your health care provider will advise you on how to protect your child. Children born to someone living with HIV will take prophylaxis medication for at least six weeks after delivery.
Please get in touch with your health care provider for further advice on PrEP, or to talk about having children safely.
What is U=U?
U=U stands for undetectable=untransmissible. This infers that people living with HIV who are adherent to ART with a consistently undetectable viral load have almost no chance of transmitting HIV through sex.
What if my viral load is detectable?
If your viral load is detectable, ensure that you take HIV medicines regularly as advised by your healthcare provider. Continue taking ART regularly for three months and repeat the viral load test.
If your viral load is detectable even after maintaining proper adherence, talk to your health care provider who may advise changing the ART regimen.
Does undetectable viral load mean I am free from HIV?
No, undetectable means that ART is suppressing the HIV virus to such an extent that tests cannot detect it. However, the HIV virus still remains in the body.
Do I need to use condoms if I am undetectable?
Yes, condoms should be used as a safe sex practice even if your viral load is undetectable. ART does not protect against other STIs, like syphilis or gonorrhoea, so condoms are important to protect against other STIs.
I stopped ART on my own; what should I do?
For people living with HIV, ART needs to be taken lifelong. If you stopped ART, you should consult a health care provider immediately and restart ART under medical supervision as soon as possible.
Your health care provider will advise on the best possible regimen for you.
I want to try alternate medicine
Alternative medicines cannot cure or stop the progression of HIV; generally, these are not disease-specific.
It is important to consult a health care provider to make sure you are under the supervision of a medical professional before taking any other medicine.
Someone is claiming to cure HIV, are they right?
There is no available cure for HIV as of now. ART is the only proven treatment for HIV.
Who decided whether an in-person consultation is required or a tele-consultation?
You are free to choose an in-person / tele-consultation as per convenience. If you opt for tele-consultation, after examination, based on professional judgement, doctor can decide whether a technology-based consultation is sufficient, or an in-person review is needed.
Is my tele-consultation session private?
Only the consulting doctor will be able to join your tele-consulting call. Once you are ready and in a private space, you can click on “Start Video Consultation” to start the call.
Can I control my audio and video?
The System gives you the option to Mute/Unmute your mic as well as Show/Hide your Video.
Can my Virtual Counsellor book my Teleconsultation?
Yes, your Virtual Counsellor can book your online consultation after you share your consent via the link sent to your phone.
What information will be shared with the Doctor?
The Doctor will be able to see your Name, Registration Number, Age and Location in addition to any of your previous records available with Safe Zindagi.
Are the prescriptions provided via teleconsultation legally valid and how do I ensure that the RMP is qualified for the prescription?
The Doctor’s Name & Registration number will be displayed as per the State Medical Council. Further, this information will be available on all Prescriptions, Electronic Communication and Receipts. The Doctor shall issue prescription as per the specified format, which will have their digital signature and the Registration number. The Registration of the RMP can always be counter checked, if desired on the websites of relevant Medical Councils.
Can I reschedule my Tele-consultation after I book it?
You, Your Doctor or your Virtual Counsellor can reschedule the teleconsultation after discussion with you as per the availability of open slots.
Is my tele-consultation recorded?
As per the Tele-Medicine Guidelines from the Ministry of Health, your teleconsultation will be recorded and stored on a secure server.
What happens if my internet fails?
We understand that internet connectivity can be unreliable at times; Both you and your doctor can drop/disconnect/leave and re-join the meeting on the same link till the Consultation is marked as Complete and within the 30 minutes window of the slot.
How do we know that our privacy is not breached by tele-consultation?
The Safe Zindagi Platform follows the Tele-Medicine Guidelines which have laid down strict norms for the RMPs not to breach the privacy of the patients in any form. However, the RMP cannot be held responsible if there is reasonable evidence to believe that patient’s privacy and confidentiality has been compromised by a technology breach or by a person other than RMP.
Where will my recordings/data be stored?
All of the Program Data, including your recordings will be stored at a MeITY empanelled Data Center in India.
How will my data be protected?
All of the data will be encrypted during transmission and at rest during storage. Further, access to the data will be restricted to authorized users only and the log of access will be tracked and audited on a periodical basis.
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