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

A boat caught on fire this morning (May 11) in Port Hardy. (Adam Harding/Port Hardy Fire Rescue Facebook photo)
Fishing boat catches fire in Port Hardy, owner’s quick thinking puts out flames

The incident is a good reminder to always have a working fire extinguisher onboard your boat

School District 85 logo
Fort Rupert Elementary School gets funding from MusiCounts

The $1 million investment will support 95 schools

Agree or disagree with North Island Rising? Write a letter to the editor at editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish it online and in print.
McQuarrie: Budget meeting drama caused by unruly councillor

It was an amazing and unexpected response to what should have been… Continue reading

The medical clinic building in Port McNeill. (Bill McQuarrie photo)
Medical clinic gives update on health care in Port McNeill

The town appears to be ‘closer to a new and sustainable medical model for our town’

New electric buses are coming to school districts. (Submitted photo)
New electric school buses will drive North Island forward

Travel on electric school buses is smoother, quieter, and healthier than traditional diesel buses

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

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old bike rider on Vancouver Island already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
‘Schoolhouse Squat’ activists get conditional discharge in Nanaimo school occupation

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen sentenced in provincial court in Nanaimo

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Most Read