A new HIV self-testing and research program could ensure more Islanders get a diagnosis and the followup support they need.
The I'm Ready program is national in scope and was launched this month by Reach Nexus, a research group. Canadians can order HIV test kits online through a mobile app and get them delivered to their home, or to a local pick-up spot. PEERS Alliance, a sexual health centre in Charlottetown, is a pick-up location on P.E.I. for the program.
"We estimate that there's over 8,000 people that are living with HIV in Canada and don't know it," said Dr. Sean Rourke, a clinical neuropsychologist and a scientist at the Map Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, which is involved in the program.
"We're really excited that, you know, people can go online, download the app, provide their information to get test kits sent to them, get the information they need," said Rourke. "If they need access to support during the testing process, we have another service built into this that provides access to a secure telehealth service that is supported by peers, people that are living with HIV."
The program is primarily funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, Rourke said.
Insti HIV rapid self-test kits were approved for use in Canada in November of 2020. Rourke said 50,000 free HIV self-testing kits are being distributed across the country. Access to kits is done anonymously through the mobile app.
Rourke said he believes HIV testing in P.E.I. is currently not very accessible.
"I think it's going to be a very significant game changer for Prince Edward Island."
He said sending out 50,000 HIV self-testing kits across the country is an exciting first step, but there's more to do.
"We're looking forward to working to build more partnerships with provinces, with other opportunities to provide the funding to scale this up significantly," said Rourke.
Rourke said it's incredibly important for people with HIV to get treatment to save their own lives. Also, individuals cannot transmit the virus to their partners if they're on treatment.
There is still stigma around having HIV, Rourke said, which may prevent people from accessing tests.
"There's a variety of barriers both, you know, that prevent people from getting access and coming forward, and testing is the way into care," said Rourke.
He said the I'm Ready program is designed to not only give Canadians anonymous access to HIV tests, but to get people connected with the proper care for the disease.
"We want to end HIV in Canada," Rourke said.
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