WINNIPEG — There are nearly 1,300 Manitobans living with HIV, and Nine Circles Community Health Centre anticipates 20 per cent of people living with HIV are undiagnosed.
“People can live well and live productively with HIV. Your greatest risk is not knowing your status and not being able to manage your health effectively,” said Mike Payne, executive director of Nine Circles.
I’m Ready to Know, a national research program, is reaching undiagnosed people by offering free HIV self-testing kits. The program emphasizes providing low-barrier access to testing.
Payne said barriers existing in Manitoba range from discrimination, including racism and homophobia, to limited access to clinics.
I’m Ready to Know allows people to order free kits through a mobile app. The kits are mailed directly to the individual or available for pick up at locations like Nine Circles.
Payne added people at risk of HIV infection might not be comfortable visiting a doctor or test site.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for folks to engage in testing in a way that’s fully in their control,” Payne said.
The app provides users with testing support and connections to HIV care. It also helps researchers learn how to improve HIV testing and care in Canada.
Dr. Sean Rourke, the program’s lead scientist, said Canada’s health care system works “80 to 90 percent of the time” in getting people connected to HIV care.
“But there are people undiagnosed who aren’t getting tested,” Rourke explained. “And there are people diagnosed who aren’t getting treatment.”
Rourke said the testing is a step towards ending the HIV pandemic in Canada.
“[If we’re] able to engage those people, support them, get them on treatment, and get them in care, we’d help them actually live almost normal lifespans,” Rourke said.
I’m Ready to Know is distributing 50,000 test kits across Canada. More information can be found on its website.
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