Vancouver has become the first city in Canada where HIV tests can be conducted for free at a pharmacy.
The test is being offered by both Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Providence Health Care (PHC) as a year-long pilot project at a pair of Vancouver Medicine Shoppe pharmacy locations, 2030 Kingsway Avenue and 6180 Fraser Street, in East Vancouver.
Tests are conducted by pharmacists trained by HIV nurses from both health authorities, with results received within five minutes. The two pharmacy locations were chosen as they are also located next to walk-in clinics where doctors will provide support to patients and link them to the care and treatment should they require it.
“People can now get an HIV test while they are waiting for their prescriptions,” said Dr. Réka Gustafson, medical health officer and medical director, Communicable Disease Control, VCH. “Offering HIV testing at more locations like your local pharmacy helps normalize testing and reduces the stigma around it so that it’s more acceptable to people to get tested.”
Throughout the year, the pilot project’s feasibility and effectiveness will be evaluated before decisions are made on whether to expand the health service as part of the STOP HIV/AIDS program.
“This is the first time a pharmacy in Canada is offering HIV tests to its clients,” said Bob Rai, pharmacist and co-owner of the two Medicine Shoppe pharmacies. “We’re happy to try something innovative in an effort to help people live healthier lives.”
This complements VCH and PHC’s other initiatives to prevent and lower the province’s HIV infection rate. In 2011, HIV testing became a a routine offer at the hospitals operated by the two health authorities and has led to over 60 positive diagnosis tests. However, only those at high risk for HIV, such as intravenous drug users, were offered the test.
“We see too many people who are newly diagnosed with HIV, but are already in the advanced stages of the disease,” said Dr. Gustafson. “We can’t stress enough how very crucial early treatment is for those infected. While HIV is a chronic infection, early treatment prolongs and improves people’s lives and reduces transmission to others.”
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health released a report that stated while HIV rates on a whole were on a decline across the province, the rate remains high for gay and bisexual men as the group accounts for 57 per cent of all new HIV infections and 45 per cent of all people known to be living with the virus. It stressed that a new approach was required to tackle the issue of the most vulnerable group.
Featured Image: HIV via Shutterstock