Knowing your HIV status has become easier with the launch of the free HIV self-test kit.
The kit is distributed through the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Network (CATIE), Canada’s source for information on HIV and hepatitis C.
According to CATIE executive director Jody Jollimore, the organization is part of a national initiative launched last year to distribute self-test kits across the country to people who may need them.
“You can order the test kits on our website, directly from your home. They can be sent to you by mail. For people who prefer other options because they don’t want something to arrive in the mail, there are local organizations that distribute these test kits,” Jillimore said.
For many years, test kits were manufactured in Canada and distributed around the world, but they were only recently approved in Canada.
“For a time, they were proposed as a research project. More recently, organizations like mine have attempted to distribute 200,000 of these test kits in an effort to reach the undiagnosed,” Jillimore said.
Last year, it was estimated that more than 62,000 people were living with HIV in Canada. According to a survey published last year for Saskatchewan and Alberta, indigenous populations are the most affected. Only 64 percent of people living with HIV know their status.
Jillimore says the study only highlights what is already common knowledge: the need to better engage Indigenous people.
“The HIV response and self-testing kits have become available in recent years. This is one of the tools we are going to use to reduce the number of people infected with HIV, including pre-exposure prophylaxis, better prevention, better understanding of risks and better communication,” Jillimore said.
Trevor Stratton, Indigenous policy manager at CATIE, says he doesn’t think messages like how HIV is contracted, symptoms and methods to reduce risk are reaching Indigenous populations.
“That’s where community organizations come in. They are more likely to reach them by going to places where Indigenous people feel more comfortable or by going to places where a homeless person can possibly sleep for the night. Developing that trust and relationships is key to achieving them,” Stratton said.
Over the past year, Community Alliance Network (CAAN), a group that works with infected Indigenous people, and Gilead Sciences Canada, a biopharmaceutical company, partnered on a grant program in hopes of address these disparities.
CAAN Okimaw CEO Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis says the grant will be used to facilitate the work done by the organization.
“This grant will enable the Indigenous AIDS movement across Canada to develop Gilead’s drug for HIV and viral hepatitis. This will also help with indigenous medicines. So, they must include not only the medicines that people have access to for their health and well-being, but also the ceremonies, teachings and language,” said Kisikaw Piyesis.
CAITE hopes these self-test kits will eventually be accepted in the Indigenous community as part of an overall campaign to reduce the level of HIV infection in Saskatchewan.
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