Providers can help clients understand what it means to have an HIV test and how getting an HIV test and learning their status will benefit them. Clients should be fully informed and receive counseling. The following messages can be provided using individual or group information sessions or through other means, such as posters, brochures, or videos. For information on other STIs, please refer to Chapter 22.

Key things to know about HIV testing, results, and follow-up before taking an HIV test:

  • Their testing situation, discussions, and HIV status will be kept confidential and will not be disclosed.
  • The HIV test results can be trusted, as long as national testing algorithms have been followed.
  • A negative test result means the client does not have HIV at that time (does not need any treatment).
    • A client who has tested negative will receive counseling on how to protect themself from HIV, and be screened for (or linked to) HIV prevention services to help them remain HIV-negative (including PrEP and/or condom use), especially if they are at high risk for HIV (see Preventing HIV Acquisition, below).
  • A positive test result means that HIV antibodies have been detected, and the person is living with HIV.
    • Even if she feels well, a client who has tested positive will be provided with full information and referred/linked immediately to HIV services; it is a priority to start effective HIV treatment and to access appropriate care and support as soon as possible.
  • Options for partner testing or referral should be discussed. There are benefits to voluntarily informing male partners about both positive and negative HIV test results and encouraging male partners to also get tested. Disclosure to anyone (male partners, husbands, and any family members) must always be voluntary.
  • HIV treatment (also called antiretroviral therapy or ART) is highly effective, well tolerated, and works best when started early.
    • HIV treatment enables a person with HIV to stay healthy, and people who take ART consistently and correctly can become virally suppressed, at which stage they are unlikely to transmit HIV to others.
    • HIV treatment may be available in the same health care facility as the family planning clinic, or clients may need to access it via referral to another health care facility.

After providing this information about HIV testing individually or in a group, providers should give clients the opportunity to ask questions and to accept or decline the test individually and in private. It is important that providers give clients the opportunity to ask questions both before and after having an HIV test. Some common questions and responses are included at the end of this chapter.