Canadian Province Launches Program To Provide No-Cost Rapid HIV Tests to Residents
The Ministry of Health in the Canadian province of Ontario has launched a program to provide no-cost rapid HIV tests to residents, Health Minister George Smitherman announced on Friday, the CP/Globe & Mail reports. The test, which involves taking a drop of blood, can deliver results in 60 seconds, and it takes a total of about 20 minutes to provide the test along with pre- and post-test counseling. Tests will be available at 50 anonymous testing sites, sexually transmitted infection clinics and community health centers across the province, including 24 new sites in northern and rural Ontario. The program is expected to cost about 350,000 Canadian dollars -- or about $327,000 -- annually, Smitherman said, adding that it is worth the cost to eliminate the three-week waiting period required for standard HIV tests.
Smitherman also said the rapid HIV tests might encourage those who are reluctant to receive an HIV test to go to a clinic. "If we look at the profile of HIV and AIDS, we really appropriately have to tailor our initiatives to reducing barriers for those at-risk communities," he said. Smitherman also said that it is "really, really crucial that we have the capacity not just to offer the testing, but to offer the pre- and post-supports. It might be the health care system's only shot at really getting it right with that individual." Frank McGee, coordinator of the province's AIDS Bureau, said, "We understand people may fear knowing the results," adding, "But getting tested will help alleviate the anxiety and will make a difference in the effectiveness of treatment."
According to the CP/Globe & Mail, about 5,000 people have received rapid HIV tests during the past year at the Hassle Free Clinic in Toronto. Clinic Coordinator Jane Greer said client response has been "overwhelmingly positive, with over 90% of patients choosing rapid testing and expressing high satisfaction with the process and the technology." She added that the initiative is a "huge step forward in our ongoing response to HIV/AIDS in Ontario." Smitherman said estimates show that 30% of HIV-positive people in Canada, or up to 15,000 people, are unaware of their status (Leslie, CP/Globe & Mail, 6/23).