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HIV tests to be offered across Newfoundland on inaugural National HIV Testing Day

Debbie Kelly with Memorial University’s school of pharmacy says HIV testing could be more easily accessible if offered through pharmacies across the province.
Debbie Kelly with Memorial University’s school of pharmacy says HIV testing could be more easily accessible if offered through pharmacies across the province. - Juanita Mercer

A quick, tiny finger prick is all that’s needed to get tested for HIV at upcoming events this Wednesday in conjunction with National HIV Testing Day.

While the usual tests require a standard blood test, this painless, rapid point-of-care test gives results in under a minute.

The inaugural event will offer HIV testing at 43 sites across the country.

In St. John’s, the tests will be offered at Shoppers Drug Mart on Lemarchant Road between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. People can drop in, or call ahead for an appointment at 739-9751

The rapid-result HIV tests offered this Wednesday are similar to a pregnancy test in appearance. A simple finger prick is all that’s needed and the results are available in less than a minute.
The rapid-result HIV tests offered this Wednesday are similar to a pregnancy test in appearance. A simple finger prick is all that’s needed and the results are available in less than a minute.

In Grand Falls-Windsor, testing will happen at Central Pharmacy on Union Street from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and in Corner Brook at Shoppers Drug Mart on Herald Avenue between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

“This is so important because a lot of people are not getting testing for HIV regularly,” said Debbie Kelly, a professor in the school of pharmacy at Memorial University.

Kelly said there are upwards of 12 new cases of HIV in this province every year, but one in five people with HIV don’t know they have it — so that number would be higher if more people were getting tested.

About 75,000 people in Canada have HIV, and the most recent data shows the rates increased by 11.6 per cent between 2015 and 2016.

“If we could get everybody tested, and identify diagnosis early in everyone, then we’d be able to control the HIV epidemic,” said Kelly.

“There’s still a lot of stigma around HIV infection itself, but sexuality is part of what makes us human and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So, if you’ve had unprotected sex, or if you’ve participated in the sharing of any drug use equipment, then you’re at risk and you need to be tested.”  

Kelly said HIV is a chronic, manageable condition  – not the “big, scary disease” it once was.

If it’s diagnosed early, the life expectancy is the same as someone who doesn’t have HIV.

“It’s just like if you had diabetes, having to take insulin for the rest of your life – as long as you take the medications, you live a long, healthy life yourself, and you don’t have any risk of transmitting it to your sexual partners.”

People who attend the testing event will not be asked invasive questions about sexual partners or drug use.

Pharmacists delivering the tests will also be trained in connecting people with further support and counselling.

The event is organized by the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador and researchers involved with Memorial University’s APPROACH Study.

Goal to offer testing at pharmacies


Currently, if people want to be tested for HIV, they have to go through either their family doctor or a sexual health clinic, such as at Mount Pearl Square, or through Planned Parenthood. All of those options involve getting a blood test and the results are not immediate.

“There’s still a lot of stigma around HIV infection itself, but sexuality is part of what makes us human and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So, if you’ve had unprotected sex, or if you’ve participated in the sharing of any drug use equipment, then you’re at risk and you need to be tested.” 
Debbie Kelly, School of Pharmacy, MUN

Kelly would like to see rapid HIV tests available through pharmacies in the province year-round as a low barrier way for people to find out their HIV status and get linked to care. Wednesday’s events are a part of that push.

In a study Kelly headed up and concluded last year called APPROACH, it was found that a pharmacy-based HIV screening program is a feasible and effective way to reach more vulnerable populations.

Study results showed that clients felt comfortable getting tested by a pharmacist, and all of the participants in Newfoundland and Labrador felt the testing should be routinely offered in pharmacies.

Kelly said her team is using the results of the study to inform policy.

Government is looking into developing a sexually transmitted blood-borne infection strategy to make testing more readily available to people throughout the province.

Kelly said testing is particularly less accessible in areas outside of the eastern portion of the province.

“There are a lot of reasons why people don’t want to ask their family doctor for an HIV test, and it’s still not being offered as part of routine care, even though the guidelines say that it should be.”

She hopes that because of the APPROACH study results and events such as the testing initiative on Wednesday, the province will eventually move to make rapid-result HIV testing more accessible using pharmacies.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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