Last month we celebrated exciting news on Nov. 3, 2020 when Health Canada gave final approval for Canada’s first HIV self-test, bioLytical’s blood-based INSTI HIV Self Test. This recent approval is a critical milestone in addressing the HIV epidemic in Canada. Advocates expect that HIV self-testing will increase access to testing by giving Canadians more choices about how to test for HIV. This may lead to more people learning about their HIV status, and in turn more people connecting to care, prevention and support services.
But what does this really mean for people who want to use the test: How do you get a test? Is it hard to take the test on your own? How can I access the appropriate care?
Stacy Leblanc, Director of Program Development at PAN, and Dr. Sean B. Rourke, Director of REACH Nexus (previously the CIHR Centre for REACH in HIV/AIDS), sat down with Global News Radio’s Danielle Smith to discuss these details.
Stacy shared what it was like to take the test and what its availability means for people who take it (quotes are edited for clarity): “When I did the INSTI test I was kind of transported back to that very first test I ever had, about 27 years ago, and how nerve racking it was at the time. I’m going to a doctor at the time who I didn’t have a relationship with, sitting in a waiting room with other people, I wondered if they knew why I was there.”
He continued, “This puts the power back in your hands as the person. I think having access to these tests means we get to test when we want to and when it’s comfortable for us. We know it’s a safer environment that we are going to be doing it in.”
Sean discussed the work his team at REACH Nexus is doing to support the roll-out of the self-tests, saying, “We are in the process of building a national program that will provide free access to self-testing starting in the new year.”
This program will let people choose if they want to take an HIV self-test on their own or if they want support virtually through a peer navigator program. A peer navigator is someone who has expertise on HIV counselling and support and can help participants get connected to care after taking a test. Additionally, the program is a research study that will yield valuable data on improving access to HIV testing and care in Canada.
Stacy and Sean went on to discuss what the steps in taking the test are, how easy it is to use, how the test works and its accuracy. They also talked about when to take the test, where to get the test, and the anticipated impact this will have for people across Canada.
“It feels a bit like a game changer, to have access to a test like this. I think this is so important.” – – Stacy
Listen to the full interview on the Danielle Smith show’s online audio player (starting at the 3:00-minute mark).
For more information, please visit our new testing technologies for STBBIs webpage. We will be updating this page with new information and resources on self-testing and with more details about our work with REACH Nexus on an ongoing basis.