Knowing your HIV status just got easier with the launch of the free HIV self-test kit.
The kit is distributed through Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE ), Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information.
According to CATIE executive director Jody Jollimore, the organization is part of a national initiative set up last year to distribute self-test kits across the country to folks who may need them.
“You can order the test kits on our website, right from your home. They can be mailed to you. For folks that may prefer other options because they may not want something coming in the mail, there are local organizations that are distributing these test kits,” Jillimore said.
For many years the test kits had been made in Canada and distributed around the world, but they were only recently approved in Canada.
“For a while, they were offered as a research project. More recently, organizations like mine have been trying to distribute 200,000 of these test kits with the intention of reaching the undiagnosed,” Jillimore said.
Last year, it was estimated that over 62,000 people were living with HIV in Canada. According to a survey released last year for Saskatchewan and Alberta, Indigenous populations are impacted the most. Only 64 per cent of those who are HIV positive know of their status.
Jillimore says the study just happens to underscore what is already common knowledge — the need to do a better job of engaging Indigenous people.
“The HIV response and the self-test kits became available in the last couple of years. They’re one of the tools that we’re going to use to reduce HIV numbers, including things like pre-exposure prophylaxis, better prevention, better understanding of risks, more communication,” Jillimore said.
Indigenous policy manager for CATIE, Trevor Stratton, says he doesn’t think messages like how HIV is contracted, the symptoms, and methods for reducing risk are reaching Indigenous populations.
“That’s where community organizations come in. They are more likely able to reach them by going to the places where Indigenous people feel more comfortable, or going to places where a houseless individual can possibly sleep for the night. Developing that trust and rapport is essential in reaching them,” Stratton said.
Over the past year, Community Alliance Network (CAAN), a group that works with infected Indigenous people, and Gilead Sciences Canada, a bio-pharmaceutical company have been teaming up on a grant program in the hope of address these disparities.
Okimaw CEO of CAAN, Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, says the grant will be used to facilitate the work the organization is doing.
“This grant will enable the Indigenous AIDS movement across Canada put together the medication Gilead is putting forward for HIV and viral hepatitis. Also, it will help with the Indigenous medicines. So, they are to include not only the medicines that people are accessing for their health and wellness, but also the ceremonies, the teachings, the language,” Kisikaw Piyesis said.
CAITE hopes those self-test kits will eventually be accepted in the Indigenous community as part of an overall drive to reduce the level of HIV infections in Saskatchewan.
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