Canada expanding funding for HIV screening, including $8M for self-testing kits

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Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, shown at a news conference on Feb. 15 in Ottawa, on Monday announced expanded funding for HIV testing in Canada, saying the government was looking to apply lessons learned in the pandemic to HIV/AIDS. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, shown at a news conference on Feb. 15 in Ottawa, on Monday announced expanded funding for HIV testing in Canada, saying the government was looking to apply lessons learned in the pandemic to HIV/AIDS. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos on Monday announced nearly $18 million to expand HIV testing in Canada, with a substantial portion of the funding going toward self-administered kits.

Of the $17.9 million, $8 million will go toward purchasing HIV self-testing kits and distributing them to community organizations, Duclos said at the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal.

The other $9.9 million will go to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for expansion of HIV testing in northern, remote or isolated (NRI) communities.

"HIV self-test kits offer a safe, reliable and confidential way for people to screen for HIV infection while significantly reducing the barriers to seeking care often created by stigma and discrimination," a government news release reads.

Health Canada approved the first HIV self-test in late 2020. It's a one-minute, finger-prick blood test from Richmond, B.C., company bioLytical Laboratories Inc.

Duclos said the government is looking to apply lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to HIV/AIDS.

"We know that HIV is preventable, yet the rate of HIV infections remains high in Canada and in other countries. Providing individuals with access to testing, treatment and care can help reverse this trend.

"Removing barrier is the key to ending the AIDS pandemic."

Ottawa urged to up spending on HIV-AIDS

In October 2020, the federal government began providing rapid tests to provinces and territories for free. For many Canadians, rapid antigen tests were replacing wide-scale polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, as fewer people became eligible for them because of high demand during the Omicron wave.

In June, CBC learned that Ottawa is moving toward ending distribution of COVID-19 rapid tests to the provinces and territories by the end of the year.

The government estimates there are nearly 63,000 people living with HIV in Canada, and 1 in 10 of those aren't aware they have the virus.

Prior to the conference in Montreal, a coalition of HIV/AIDS organizations called on the government to boost annual federal spending on HIV/AIDS from $73 million to $100 million.

NDP health critic Don Davies called out the government for not providing the funding the coalition asked for. He also accused the government of acting too slowly to provide visas to some experts who were unable to attend the conference.

"The absurd length of time taken by Canadian immigration authorities to make decisions for a conference called well in advance is incompetent at best, and disgraceful at worst.," Davies said in a statement.

The government pledged $15 million last week to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The five-day 2022 AIDS conference ends Tuesday.

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