Researchers question why major Canadian innovations in HIV testing are still unavailable throughout much of Canada
As World AIDS Day 2015 events and activities get underway on December 1st, health researchers are questioning why innovative Canadian-made technology such as point-of-care-testing (POCT) for HIV is still in limited use in Canada.
It has been 15 years since point-of-care-testing (POCT) for HIV has been approved for use in Canada. While HIV POCT is currently available in major centres like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, it remains unavailable in many jurisdictions across the country and is not currently available in any of the four Atlantic Provinces. This is “despite being recognized as a means of increasing HIV testing access and uptake in communities that are often among the least likely to come forward for conventional HIV testing and related clinically-based interventions,” says Dr. Jacqueline Gahagan, Professor of Health Promotion and Director of the Gender and Health Promotion Studies (GAHPS) Research Unit at Dalhousie University.
It is estimated that approximately 25% of Canadians who are living with HIV are unaware of their status. This presents two concerns. First, infected individuals who are not on HIV treatments to control the virus will have poorer health outcomes and a shorter life expectancy. Second, is the role of undiagnosed individuals in contributing to the spread of HIV. “For some communities, like gay men, the clear majority of new HIV infections are originating from sexual contact with partners who are unaware of their infection and have not yet been diagnosed”, says Dr. Gahagan. “Access to testing can provide an earlier diagnosis and connect newly diagnosed individuals to treatment and care which can have a profound impact on reducing further infections.”
In response to gaps in HIV POCT access, Dr. Gahagan and colleagues from the National HIV POCT Working Group are today releasing, HIV Point-of-Care Testing (POCT) in Canada: Action Plan 2015-2020. The Action Plan, which is intended to inform advocacy on the issue, makes 10 recommendations to improve access to and uptake of HIV POCT. “CTAC supports the National Action Plan, including calls for increased funding for piloting and scaling up HIV POCT programs,” said Glenn Betteridge, Policy Researcher with CTAC. “All those with a role to play need to work together to ensure that HIV testing services throughout Canada better meet the needs of people most at risk of HIV and people who don’t live in urban centres, rather than vice-versa.”