The self-testing kits are free and can be ordered directly to a chosen location. The self-test kit initiative aims to help decrease the barriers preventing people from knowing their HIV status.
These INSTI HIV Self Tests are currently the only self-test licensed in Canada. They use the same testing grade one would access in a healthcare institution, but it can be done in the comfort of one’s home. The test is done by pricking the finger for a blood sample and collecting those samples in three small bottles, and results can be determined in minutes. The test can be done alone or in the company of another person.
“It’s democratizing HIV testing,” says Jody Jollimore, executive director of CATIE. “It allows people to test privately and discreetly and empowers individuals to take their health into their own hands. Anyone could have and take this test,” he says.
In 2020, one in 10 people living with HIV in Canada did not know. This initiative aims to help stop the epidemic by making people aware of their status so they can take the necessary steps for their health. People with HIV can lead long, healthy lives if they access the required antiviral treatment. When a person with HIV is on effective treatment, they cannot pass it on through sex. These interventions require knowing their status to receive the appropriate treatment, which self-testing can support.
In the first months of rollout, 40,000 of the 200,000 self-test kits have been delivered to individuals nationwide. This individualized and private process changes and personalizes that initial clinical experience of identifying one's status.
This is particularly supportive of populations that have been historically neglected by or disengaged from traditional medical institutions. One of those populations is African, Caribbean and Black communities and the many intersecting identities that can make up their experience in Canada.
Despite being a minority in Canada, Black people are still more likely to die from HIV/AIDS. According to an article analyzing Statistics Canada data, Black men are five times and Black women 22 times more likely to die from HIV/AIDS than the white population. Better access to healthcare is just one line of defence against these disparities. This initiative is helping simplify one step along that series of interactions with the healthcare system.
“This effort is great because it creates an opportunity for independence and can encourage communities to get tested,” says Heather Nyamanza, National Coordinator at Canadian HIV/AIDS Black, African and Caribbean (CHABAC) Network.
“But Black communities are tired of being associated with HIV. So the scale of this effort is huge, and it encompasses every community at high risk for HIV.”
While the healthcare system is left wanting when it comes to effectively serving marginalized populations living with HIV, health advocates and organizations are working hard together to see that Canada reaches the global goals outlined in the HIV strategy by the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The strategy aims to eliminate HIV as a public health threat by 2030. The milestones for 2020 were summarized by the phrase “90-90-90” and consisted of the following targets:
- 90% of people with HIV know their infection status
- 90% of those diagnosed have been connected to treatment
- 90% of people taking treatment have an undetectable viral load
At the end of 2020, an estimated:
- 90% of Canadians living with HIV have been diagnosed
- 87% of those diagnosed have been connected to treatment
- 95% of those on treatment reached viral suppression, meaning they can’t pass it on through sex
By 2025, Canada has committed to working to achieve 95% on each of these targets.
“We’ve got a lot to be hopeful for; we are close,” says Jollimore. “We’re getting close to where we need to be to end the epidemic; we’ve got the tools, and self-testing is one of them.”