A new study shows how HIV self-tests can help LGBT+ people overcome health obstacles, The Canadian Press reports. Thousands of free HIV self-test kits will be sent out by the Community-Based Research Centre to collect research on how gay men and queer people can overcome barriers to getting screened. Longtime problems such as shame and a lack of access to testing have become even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research centre’s yearly Sex Now health survey for LGBT+ people kicked off Tuesday (Apr. 20) with a new part that will give 5,000 participants up to three rapid HIV self-test kits each. In November 2020, the bioLytical Laboratories’ one-minute, finger-prick INSTI HIV Self Test became the first Canadian-approved device of its kind. The tests aim to reduce rates of unknown HIV infections, especially 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, in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“We’re really seeing these HIV self-tests as an opportunity to engage in community and address some of the systemic barriers.”
A survey the research group conducted last fall found that half of LGBT+ people were not getting tested for sexually transmitted infections during the first six months of the pandemic. Respondents said it was due to clinics being closed or being concerned about contracting COVID-19 during the visit.
“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.
The Community-Based Research Centre will send 15,000 free kits to people across the country to use for themselves or to share with others - the initiative is supported by HIV research group Reach Nexus. Six months later, the researchers will collect feedback on devices, Lachowsky said.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, in 2018, almost half of new HIV infections in Canada were among men who have sex with men.
Outreach worker for homeless youth in Vancouver, Andre Marcotte, told The Canadian Press that making these devices free and accessible will allow HIV self-testing to succeed.
“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.