STBBI testing must be deemed an essential service

While some may think that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in fewer people having sex and therefore fewer new cases of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI), some health care professionals and sexual health advocates, including CAS, think that it could be exactly the opposite. Many sexual health testing clinics have closed their doors entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are only offering appointments to those who have been diagnosed with an STBBI or who are experiencing symptoms. The majority of STBBI do not have any symptoms, and those who are asymptomatic are more likely to be unknowingly spreading an STBBI. Therefore, by only testing people with symptoms, new cases of STBBI are likely to increase significantly during COVID-19.

Although it is important to minimize risks to healthcare workers and postpone any non-essential services, postponing routine STBBI testing could have serious long-term impacts on health. Even curable STBBI such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can, if left untreated, have long-term negative health such as pelvic inflammatory disease. HIV is a particular concern as the longer a person with HIV is left undiagnosed, the more serious effects it can have on their long-term health outcomes.

Even with physical distancing rules in place, it is vital that we take a harm reduction approach to sex during the COVID-19 pandemic and recognize that not everyone will be able to refrain from physical distancing in order to have sex. Stigma against those who cannot physically distance can dissuade people from accessing safer sex supplies such as condoms. We must continue to offer sexual health services, including routine STBBI testing, even during a period of great uncertainty.

Visit HIV411 for sexual health testing clinics across Canada and Portail VIH/Sida du Québec for testing sites specifically in Quebec (please note that HIV411 is in the process of being updated and Portail VIH/Sida du Québec’s list of sites is being continuously updated). There are also a couple of excellent resources about sex during COVID-19, such as this one from the New York City Health Department and these ones from RÉZO and the Health Initiative for Men that are specific to men who have sex with men.

National HIV Testing Week at CAHR

On May 1 and 2, 2020 the Canadian Association for HIV Research held its 29th annual Conference on HIV/AIDS Research (CAHR 2020). The conference, which was held virtually due to COVID-19, featured an e-poster from the Canadian AIDS Society about the past two years of the national HIV Testing Week (formerly national HIV Testing Day) initiative.

Images of the poster are below. If you are interested in viewing other posters or other parts of the conference, please visit the CAHR website.

2019 National HIV Testing Day Final Report

National HIV Testing Day was first launched in Canada on June 27, 2018, in order to highlight the importance of testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI), dismantle the stigma surrounding HIV and encourage Canadians to take charge of their sexual health by getting tested. The first national HIV Testing Day proved to be successful, testing over 800 Canadians for HIV and other STBBI.

Following an even more successful Testing Day in 2019, with testing numbers well exceeding the first year, CAS and the rest of the Testing Day steering committee are pleased to announce the expansion of the campaign to a national HIV Testing Week. With Testing Week, we can grow our capacity for encouraging Canadians to get tested by upsizing the number of participating organizations, creating more testing events and have more people who will #KnowTheirStatus!

Read the final report here.

Second annual national HIV Testing Day taking place this June in Canada

Second annual national HIV Testing Day taking place this June in Canada

2018 event resulted in 835 Canadians being tested for HIV

OTTAWA, May 21, 2019 – The national HIV Testing Day event organized by the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS), community-based organizations and local health authorities across Canada will be returning this year on June 27th with testing events happening at various times at local testing sites in 70 communities across the country. ‘’Building on the success of last year, this event is truly about normalizing HIV testing, increasing Canadians’ capacity to make informed decisions regarding their own sexual health, and decreasing stigma’’ says Gary Lacasse, Executive Director of CAS.

HIV Testing Day was created in response to the rising HIV rates being seen in Canada. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s 2017 HIV Surveillance Report, there has been a 17.1% increase in the number of new HIV infections in Canada between 2014 and 2017. Stigma and barriers to testing continue to exist, discouraging Canadians from getting tested. The inaugural event in 2018 received national media coverage, raising awareness about the importance of regular testing for HIV and other STBBI. Similarly, a major priority for this year’s event will be to reach the undiagnosed – Canadians who are disproportionately affected by HIV and other STBBI and/or Canadians who have never been tested for HIV and other STBBI.

CAS FB2

The theme for this year’s Testing Day is “Know Your Status”. 1 in 5 Canadians living with HIV are unaware that they have HIV.  The only way to know for certain if you’re HIV-positive is to get tested. The sooner you know your status the sooner you can be linked to care. Where available, testing sites will be able to provide immediate HIV test results using point-of-care testing kits. In just a minute, a simple finger-prick test is all you need to know your status.

“Despite huge advancements in HIV research, stigma still prevents many people from taking the first step: getting tested. Our 1 minute HIV test is used anywhere from remote outreach settings to busy city testing events, helping to alleviate stigma and other barriers. Being fast and reliable, it provides flexibility to tailor counselling to the person and can help to link more people to care.”
Rick Galli
bioLytical Laboratories, the maker of INSTI

A new component of this project will be the presence of U=U spokespeople at various testing sites. U=U (Undetectable=Untransmissible) is an initiative based on the scientific consensus that when you achieve viral suppression from taking HIV medicine and continue to stay at undetectable levels of HIV, you can stay healthy and have no risk of transmitting the virus to others. Where possible, a person living with HIV who is undetectable will be available at participating testing sites to explain the campaign and how someone who is living with HIV can have a healthy sex life and not pass the virus along to others.

CAS FB3

This initiative is being organized by CAS and a national steering committee made up of community-based organizations from across the country: the Pacific AIDS Network, the Alberta Community Council on HIV, AIDS Saskatoon, Nine Circles Community Health Centre, the Ontario AIDS Network, COCQ-Sida, ENSEMBLE Greater Moncton (formerly AIDS/Sida Moncton), AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia, AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, and CATIE.

In addition to HIV Testing Day on June 27th, this project will also involve the ongoing initiative of providing sexual health resources to these priority populations through a variety of mediums.  A social media educational campaign will be on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and will take a holistic approach adapted to the specific cultural needs of priority populations.  A toolkit has also been developed by CAS with templates and guidelines for community-based organizations to organize presentations for populations in their communities.

These strategies will sustain the benefits of the national Testing Day initiative and ensure information will be accessible to as many people as possible, to increase testing year-round so more Canadians living with HIV #KnowYourStatus and can take proper precautions to protect themselves and their sexual partners. 

Information on the testing site locations is available at www.hivtestingweek.ca and will continue to be updated leading up to June 27th. Identify a national HIV Testing Day site near you, get tested and #KnowYourStatus. 

Kelly Puddister, National Programs Coordinator

Canadian AIDS Society

  1. 230.3580, ext. 123 / kelly.puddister@cdnaids.ca