Health care professional holding a test tube and an AIDS ribbon
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My first time: HIV self-test

By Steffi Friday, March 2, 2018 - 06:00
HIV self-testing kits were launched in Kenya about a year ago. High time we try and review them, don't you think?

Buying the kit

I buy the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) self-testing kit from the chemist on the ground floor at YAYA Centre in Nairobi. They even have a big sign outside, advertising them. You can also find them at a range of other chemists.

There are two different kinds: a blood test and an oral test, where you have to swab your gums. I ask which one is easier to use and am told the oral on. That suits me just fine – I'd rather not start poking myself for droplets of blood.
I'm feeling uneasy; the chemist seems to be a bit judgmental. I am tempted to tell her that this is for research. But I bite my tongue: she should be open in the first place.

I put the pack (which is about the size of a book) into my bag, go home, and get straight to work. Now that I've committed to taking the test, I want to get started as soon as possible!

DIY HIV-testing

The package comes with detailed instructions in both English and Swahili. There are also lots of pictures, so the process is very easy to follow.

I am instructed to put the test tube that contains a liquid into the little stand that comes with the kit. Then I swab my gums, top and bottom, and put the 'test device' (their word, not mine) into the tube. And that's it: all I have to do now is wait.

After twenty minutes, I walk back into the bathroom. I must admit, the wait was more uncomfortable than I thought it would be. My brain went into overdrive: have I made any bad choices, what if, could I...?

Pregnancy tests are unnerving, but at least you get your results in two minutes; try 20!

Thankfully, the test turns out to be negative. It's easy to read, and again, the instructions are clear and come with pictures. I let out a sigh of relief and go about my day.

Pros

  • You can take the test from the comfort of your home. This might be an advantage if you are afraid of being judged or you feel uncomfortable going to a health facility. This could be because you are a sex worker, or you identify as LGBT, or you don't want to be seen around a clinic. It's also a good option if you are housebound or the VCT isn't easily accessible for you.
  • The test is very easy to use.

Cons 

  • It's expensive. At KSh 1000, it's not a bargain and might be unaffordable for many. VCT, on the other hand, is free.
  • While you don’t have to go to a clinic or VCT, you still need to buy the test from a chemist, and you might be seen doing it. So if anonymity is an issue, you might want to get someone else to buy it for you and dispose of it carefully.
  • You are on your own. Which can be an advantage, but I felt a bit left alone and wondered what would happen if the result is positive. You are missing the support and counselling aspect you get at a VCT centre.
  • A colleague of mine used the blood test and said it wasn't easy at all, so if you have a choice, go for the oral test kit instead.


Would you be interested in getting a home testing kit? Or would you rather go to a VCT facility? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

Comments
Testing HIV positive alone at home can be a disaster. I prefer going to a clinic especially when I am genuinely not sure of what results I will get. Lakini it's a good step for the brave ones!

Hey Angie, this is one of the downside of self testing one doesn't get the benefits of exploring their risks and planning for the steps they will take depending on the outcome of the results. The option of going to a clinic is still available. The reason for testing is to get to know ones HIV status.

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