Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) for HIV as a beneficial tool in the health care delivery system from a developing world perspective ; a psychosocial analysis of limitations and possibilities using qualitative grounded theory and quantitative methods.
The intervention of Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is rapidly gaining ground as an essential component in the health care system in an effort to combat and confront the spread of this disease. In South Africa where this intervention is gradually being introduced the application of VCT and the benefits and consequences likely to ensue from the application of the procedure were evaluated in-depth using a grounded theory and quantitative approach to describe the psychosocial dynamics. The interactive transfer of information embodied in VCT forms an integral part of the intervention and will continue to do so even when antiretroviral dnugs are uniformly available throughout the South African healthcare service. The way in which the women who will undergo this procedure internalise and respond to the information imparted to them during the counselling is highly significant from an educational and empowering perspective, regardless of the outcome of the test result. The aim of the counselling is primarily to promote a rising consciousness amongst patients and subsequently within their communities in an endeavour to move away from what is termed 'exceptionalism' and towards 'normalisation' of the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Communicating the facts about HIV will help to dispel the myths and stigma which still surround the disease. A convenience sample of one hundred and twelve women were interviewed whilst attending antenatal clinics at four different sites in KwaZulu-Natal. In addition a small cross-sectional sample of service providers and key informants in communities situated near to the chosen sites were interviewed to explore the perceptions of VCT and HIV in the current health service and community environment. The findings revealed that there is to date no mandatory policy which offers VCT routinely at any of the health centres primarily due to the cost of testing, lack of posts for trained counsellors and timeous laboratory facilities. Confusion amongst health personnel regarding current policies of treatment regimens for HIV/AIDS patients, as well as differing opinions about feeding options for infants, can undermine counsellors' confidence to handle complex issues competently from an informed position. Recommendations are that trained counsellor posts with opportunities for updating of current policies, easily accessible laboratory facilities and suitable space for confidential counselling (both oral and visual) be implemented as a priority in the health service. A more comprehensive service should be universally implemented, not just in antenatal and communicable disease clinics for ethical reasons of equity between all members of society. In the same vein the networking and cumulative energy of NGOs, religious groups and health professionals must be harnessed to work synergistically to provide sustainable solutions for those living with HIV and those at risk of becoming infected.