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 href="Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning." target="_blank"></a>Facebook users reported seeing a body on the side of the road this morning. (File photo)
Man killed in fatal hit-and-run collision between Abbotsford and Chilliwack

Body reported at 6 a.m., police close North Parallel Road, single highway lane as they investigate

Westbound traffic is slow moving on Highway 1 following a crash that has police blocking one lane. Google Maps screenshot taken at 9:07 a.m.
TRAFFIC: Crash on North Parallel Road causes road closure, single westbound Highway 1 lane blocked

Abbotsford Police investigating, roads closed between McDermott and No. 3 Road

Kassandra Clack of Abbotsford has been named one of 18 finalists in the Jim Beam Virtual National Talent Search, taking place in June.
Fraser Valley country singer Kassandra Clack a finalist in national talent search

18 finalists vie to win Jim Beam Virtual National Talent Search in June

Mandeep Grewal was gunned down outside an Abbotsford bank in October 2018. Police said a violent gang war to control drug-line territory was going on at that time. Drug charges have now been announced against seven people. (FILE PHOTO: John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
7 people face 38 charges related to gang drug activity in Abbotsford and Mission

Police say investigation began in 2018 into expansion of Brothers Keepers’ drug line

This vehicle is suspected of being involved in a suspicious incident on Friday (May 7) on Mouat Drive in Abbotsford.
Driver in Abbotsford tries to lure teen girl into his vehicle

Man tells 14-year-old that her mom sent him to pick her up

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil Friday evening (May 7) to remember 29-year-old corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, who was killed in last weekend’s brazen daylight shooting outside North Delta’s Scottsdale Centre mall. (James Smith photo)
Hundreds gather to remember victim of North Delta shooting

Corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, was killed in what police say was a targeted incident

Flags flown at half mast out front of Fraser Regional Correctional Centre for slain corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa. (Neil Corbett/ The News)
Public vigil and flying flags at half mast done to honour slain prison guard

Maple Ridge corrections officer Bikramdeep Randhawa, 29, is being remembered in a number of ways

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Most Read