Special Reports:

Our HIV reporting of the past decade

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A large chunk of our reporting focuses on HIV. Since the launch of Bhekisisa in 2013, we’ve covered HIV in-depth — from the impact of the virus on former president Nelson Mandela’s family to the advances in antiretroviral treatment and anti-HIV pills and injections. We’ve also looked at the impact of inequality and discrimination on the spread of HIV, the link between gender-based violence and HIV — and ways to fix it.

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‘I would buy the HIV home test because it’s easier than being disrespected by nurses’

South Africa is one of about three dozen countries that supports HIV self-testing, but will it catch on? Here’s what people who live here had to say.

It’s been almost two years since the South African Pharmacy Council approved the over-the-counter sale of HIV self-testing kits. The kits are now available at pharmacies for between R60 and R160.

South Africa is one of 40 countries that have incorporated self-testing as part of its national HIV testing guidelines, says the World Health Organisation. The body recommended in 2016 that do-it-yourself diagnostics should be offered alongside traditional testing at clinics to help more people know their HIV status. The national health department is expected to have new draft guidance on how self-testing should work in the country by September.

For years, the idea of testing for HIV in the comfort of your own home – and without a counsellor – sparked fears that it might put people who test positive at risk of, for example, suicide. But these fears have not been borne out in studies from Malawi and increasing data from South Africa as organisations like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and others find new ways to use the DIY test. So far, the lure of added privacy and convenience seems to be doing the trick to get people to self-test.

But could HIV self-testing really take off in South Africa? We asked readers on Twitter: 77% of the 73 Twitter users surveyed said they would take an HIV self-test. Another 15% said they weren’t sure. 

Find out what people said online and in the streets as Bhekisisa asks, would you test yourself for HIV?

Phindile Sokhulu, 54, is unemployed but she says she’d spend money on HIV self-testing kits if only to avoid rude nurses at her local clinic.

Online, many readers said they are already frequent self-testers.

Yes. I have. Many times in the past. It is the best thing to do for your body.

— Biggie Charles (@CharlesLeeZA) September 7, 2017

Including some of our Mail & Guardian staff. Here’s what our supplements editor had to say:

I self-test at least 2x a year.

— Zamantungwa Khumalo (@Zamantungwa_K) September 7, 2017

Even the health department’s deputy director general of HIV, Yogan Pillay, said he’d take the DIY test:

Yes I would!

— yogan pillay (@ygpillay) September 7, 2017

And Bhekisisa’s news editor might be a convert after overcoming some initial fears when she self-tested for this video:

Yup. When I tested for our video I doubted I could do it right so tested at a clinic before but now feel pretty confident about it.

— Laura Lopez Gonzalez (@LLopezGonzalez) September 7, 2017

But some people weren’t convinced. Makungu Baloyi is a 22-year-old student who says she prefers traditional testing where she can get face-to-face pre- and post-test counselling.

On Twitter, Rhodé Marshall @rhodemarshall said she had tried it with a partner – and had second thoughts:

I did impulsively with a partner. Once it was happening I regretted it because what if one of us were positive? Didn’t prepare for that

— Rhodé Marshall (@rhodemarshall) September 7, 2017

But many people we spoke to online and around Johannesburg said they would take the DIY HIV test. They argued self-testing would do just what it’s supposed to: Get more people to know their HIV status.

And from the Twittersphere:

Personally it’s a yes from me.

Encourages more people to test, without fear of judgement.

— Sivuyile Madikana (@thesivu) September 7, 2017

Yes. Knowledge is empowering

— IG: IamBahle (@IamBahle) September 7, 2017

If more HIV-positive people know their status, more people can get treatment. When  antiretroviral therapy is used correctly, the medication can bring the level of HIV in their blood to very low levels and make it impossible for them to transmit the virus.

Nelisiwe Msomi was a health reporter at Bhekisisa.

Pontsho Pilane is the communications manager at Soul City Institute for Social Justice. Pilane was a health journalist at Bhekisisa from 2017 until 2019.