A first-of-its-kind initiative to dispense free HIV tests in pharmacies is seeing low uptake in the Harbour City.
A new access point for HIV testing in Nanaimo – among the first in Canada – has seen lower-than-expected uptake in the first three months of the trial program, according to Island Health.
The Nanaimo Medicine Shoppe in Terminal Park mall became the third pharmacy in B.C. to offer rapid, free HIV tests last August as part of a greater effort to make HIV testing more routine. The goal was to see 50 people tested monthly or a total of 600 by the end of the year, but early numbers show 34 in total between August and October.
So far this month, five tests have been administered by the pharmacy.
Sophie Bannar-Martin, Stop HIV/AIDS program coordinator with Island Health, said this is the first time the program, a collaboration with Vancouver Coastal Health and the Medicine Shoppe, has been delivered in Canada and they didn’t really know what to expect until it rolled out. Since the pilot began in Nanaimo last August, Island Health has seen uptake drop from 22 to four in September and eight in October. Vancouver also saw a decrease from just over 50 tests for each of two sites in the first month to between 20 and 25.
Bannar-Martin said Island Health doesn’t know why it isn’t seeing higher test numbers, but three months isn’t long enough to make any blanket statements about the effectiveness of the strategy.
“We’ll see ultimately what happens closer to the year mark,” she said.
Test results take fewer than five minutes to deliver and anyone with non-negative results are referred to a local medical clinic to confirm the diagnosis. To date, there have been no positive test results, according to Island Health.
Nanaimo Medicine Shoppe pharmacist Elijah Ssemaluulu said he plans to do more promotion and clinics in December.
“There’s nothing wrong in testing,” Ssemaluulu said. “It improves your life expectancy and it helps you plan your life as well.”