At the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, the English sign for the voluntary HIV testing centre stands out among the mostly Devanagari signs. The World Health Organisation recommends people getting an HIV test should be counselled before being tested, so I went to see what the experience is like for a foreigner living in Delhi.
Last year, I received counselling when I was tested in New York. The clinician started by asking why I was concerned enough to get tested and explained what behaviours posed a risk for infection. Outside the counsellor’s office at Ram Manohar Lohia, a poster advised clients: “Multiple partner sex is an invitation to AIDS”. HIV literature in the US is not worded so strongly.
The counsellor’s English was limited and my Hindi is far worse, but she was accommodating and found a doctor who spoke English. The doctor asked what test I needed, and if my employer had sent me. I said I had come on my own.
“So you can tell me, what are your concerns?” she asked.
I concocted a story, telling her I slept with an American man I didn’t know, in April, and now I was worried. Her series of questions was nearly identical to the New York clinician’s.
“Have you had any contacts since then, since April,” she asked, discreetly calling intercourse “contact”. No, I told her.
“Where are you staying in India?” With friends. “Man or woman?” Two women.
She explained the anti-body test only works once the virus has been in the body for four to eight weeks and asked again if I have any concerns. No, I said, and left her office.
While waiting for the counsellor, another man there for the test asked me why I was there. He knew little English but the words “HIV test”, “positive” and “negative” transcended the language barrier.