Pilot program aims to improve access to testing for HIV

A Nanaimo pharmacy is the first on Vancouver Island to dispense free HIV tests as part of a year-long pilot program.

Island Health announced Monday that the Nanaimo Medicine Shoppe at Terminal Park mall will begin offering free, instant HIV tests to customers this week as part of a push to improve access to testing. It’s the third pharmacy to offer the new service, following two in the Lower Mainland. Victoria will also start HIV testing at the end of the month.

The test results take less than five minutes to deliver and anyone with non-negative results are referred to a local medical clinic to confirm the diagnosis.

Until now most people had to see a physician or nurse to get the test, which can be difficult if they don’t have good access to health services, says Dr. Dee Hoyano, medical health officer for Island Health, who adds that if this works she sees it as a very good way to increase how HIV testing gets done in communities.

“If we’re going to get zero new HIV infections on Vancouver Island people have to know if they are infected and follow up with a lifesaving treatment,” she said, in a press release.

Island Health statistics show the estimated HIV testing rate in 2013 for central Vancouver Island was 3,420 tests per 100,000 population and there were 11 new cases. It also estimated last year that 221 people in the central Island are living with HIV.

Elijah Ssemaluulu, pharmacist and owner of Nanaimo Medicine Shoppe, said the tests will give people a chance to know if they are negative or non-negative for HIV and they can schedule an appointment that’s convenient.

“There’s nothing as good as knowing who you are, knowing how healthy you are,” he said.

Island Health is looking to see 600 tests in Nanaimo over the next 12 months and will be evaluating diagnoses, cost effectiveness and quality of care.

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