National HIV Testing Day is June 27. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

National HIV Testing Day is June 27. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Study looks at how HIV self-tests can help queer people overcome health-care hurdles

Study will send 15,000 free self-test kits to participants across Canada to either use themselves or share with others

Researchers are sending out thousands of free HIV self-test kits as part of a study to help gay men and queer people overcome barriers to getting screened.

The Community-Based Research Centre says longstanding issues such as stigma and lack of access to testing have become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 crisis, which has shuttered many sexual health clinics across the country.

The group’s annual Sex Now health survey for gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer (GBT2Q) people launched Tuesday with a new component that offers 5,000 participants up to three rapid HIV self-test kits each.

Last November, bioLytical Laboratories’ one-minute, finger-prick INSTI HIV Self Test became the first medical device of its kind to be approved for use in Canada.

The technology is seen as a tool to help reduce rates of undetected HIV infections, particularly among marginalized groups.

“Even before the COVID pandemic, we saw that there were barriers to accessing HIV and sexual health testing,” said Nathan Lachowsky, the centre’s research director and the survey’s principal investigator.

“We’re really seeing these HIV self-tests as an opportunity to engage in community and address some of the systemic barriers.”

According to the centre, half of GBT2Q people surveyed last fall said they delayed or skipped testing for sexually transmitted infections during the first six months of the pandemic. More than half of respondents said clinics were closed or unavailable because of COVID-19, while more than a third raised concerns about contracting the novel coronavirus during their visit.

As the pandemic consumes most of Canada’s public health resources, Lachowsky said there’s a lack of quality data about the spread of HIV and other STIs, and he believes self-tests could help fill in some of those gaps.

“We know from the persistence of HIV pandemic amongst (the GBT2Q) community that we need to innovate, and we need new options,” said Lachowsky, who’s also an associate professor at the University of Victoria.

Backed by the HIV research group Reach Nexus, the study will send 15,000 free self-test kits to participants across Canada to either use themselves or share with others in their social network.

Researchers will collect feedback six months later on the devices and how they can be used to connect members of the GBT2Q community with other sexual health supports, said Lachowsky.

Lachowsky hopes these insights can inform a strategy that will reduce barriers to screening such as access to health care, travel and wait times, cost concerns and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities.

In 2018, nearly half of new HIV infections in Canada were among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Bryan Quinones, a harm reduction coordinator with Toronto’s Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, said COVID-19 has compounded sexual stigmatization in a way that will ultimately undermine public health.

“The reality is that even in a pandemic, people are still having sex with each other,” said Quinones, who is part of the Community-Based Research Centre’s community advisory committee on HIV self-testing.

Quinones said HIV self-test kits allow members of the GBT2Q community to take charge of their own health and feel empowered within a medical system that’s long been biased against them.

Andre Marcotte, an outreach worker for homeless youth in Vancouver, said HIV self-testing can only reach its full potential if it’s matched with an effort to make these devices free and accessible.

Marcotte said he’s counselled a few homeless youth through potential HIV exposures, and the hurdles of gettingthem tested at a sexual health clinic during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It would be a huge benefit to have these HIV testing kits in places … where these people are going to access them, because oftentimes, they’re mistrustful of health services,” said Marcotte, noting that queer and transgender youth are overrepresented in the homeless population.

“It would definitely be easier if my team had access to these self-testing kits to just hand to our clients.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

HealthHIV/AIDS

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interfor’s Castlegar mill is getting $35 million in upgrades. Photo by: John Boivin
Interfor to invest $35 million at Castlegar mill

Project will enhance productivity and competitiveness

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton, the historians behind popular Facebook page Lost Kootenays, are set to release a book of the same name and have just unveiled its cover showing the ghostly Hotel in Slocan City shortly before its 1953 demolition. Photo courtesy of Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton.
Popular historical Facebook page Lost Kootenays set to release book

128-page hard copy documenting history of East and West Kootenays coming this fall

Paul Chung is working as an early childhood educator at Cornerstone Children’s Centre in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Immigration pilot targets hard-to-fill jobs in West Kootenay

Program helps newcomers get permanent residency status in rural areas

Four homes in Johnson Flats were at serious risk of falling into a neighbourhood section of the Kettle River, according to capital project manager Justin Dinsdale. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks shields riverside homes against erosion

Crews have built a modified dike along a section of the Kettle River in Johnson Flats

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Most Read