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

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows a vile of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Castlegar pharmacy gets additional AstraZeneca vaccines

Two Castlegar pharmacies list appointment openings this week

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Castlegar City Hall. (Photo: Kristen Lawson)
City of Castlegar finance reports for 2020 show revenue losses

Some losses were offset by savings and grants

Construction will continue on Columbia Avenue for several months. Photo: City of Castlegar
Columbia Avenue detour to remain in place

There will be changes to make the detour safer and better for businesses in the construction zone

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

The real estate boom across the Okanagan has not felt a negative impact from the coronavirus impact on our national economy. (Contributed)
Booming year ahead, says Kootenay Association of Realtors

Strong real estate sales continue throughout Kootenays

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in B.C.

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

Most Read