In countries most severely affected by HIV/AIDS, fewer than one in ten people with HIV know that they are infected. People who do not know they are HIV positive do not seek care at an early stage, and tend to find out about it only when they become very ill. During this time, they may unknowingly infect other people. Key prevention and treatment opportunities are missed when people do not know their HIV status.
Voluntary counseling and testing is an important prevention tool, as well as opening up opportunities for treatment, care and support for people who test HIV positive. People who want to take a test receive information, support and referral through confidential dialogue with a trained counselor both before and after the test. Services can be tailored to meet the needs of specific groups, such as young people, pregnant women, intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men and sex workers. By undergoing voluntary counseling and testing, more people can know their HIV status, get accurate information on HIV transmission, have a better understanding of their own risk or vulnerability to HIV infection and have access to relevant information and services.