Over 26 per cent of Canadians with HIV/AIDS don’t know they have it, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
But according to the director of Montreal health clinic the rates of HIV and STI testing are declining.
In an effort to encourage testing, free and anonymous HIV screening became the main focus for one day at Head and Hands, a non-profit free clinic that provides general medical services and health education in N.D.G.
All other clinical services were put on hold last Dec. 1, on World AIDS Day.
Leah Dolgoy, an employee of the clinic, speculated that some people chose to not get tested because of a fear of being burdened with negative and misinformed opinions about the virus. “People are worried that the results of the test will follow them around and be on their permanent medical record,” she said. “There’s a lot of stigma attached to HIV and that stigma can be a deterrent to get tested. We need to have a space where there will be less at stake.”
Though this kind of offer is not a regular occurrence at the clinic, Dolgoy said it will provide an anonymous test for anybody who comes in and asks for one.
The clinic’s offer last Tuesday was based on the assumption that anonymous testing can act as an incentive for getting tested since results never appear in any medical files. Other HIV tests yield confidential results, which are maintained in a patient’s medical file and available to health practitioners, and must be presented in applications for health insurance.
Marlo Turner-Ritchie, executive director of Head and Hands, described the day as a “a good opportunity to connect with the health educator.”
The clinic used traditional HIV tests that give results in about two weeks. For those who cannot wait two weeks, rapid HIV testing is available at some clinics in Montreal, but not at Head and Hands. The rapid tests provide results in about an hour. Despite its ability to put a patient’s mind at ease, Turner-Ritchie said Health Canada no longer recommends the test because it has, on occasion, produced false positive and false negative results.
More people getting tested more frequently isn’t the only piece of the puzzle,Turner-Ritchie said. Better education is also key.
“It’s a really bad time to not be doing complete, accessible, non-judgmental sex education. STI rates are on the rise,” he said. There are concerning statistics from the Institut national de santÃ© publique du QuÃ©bec to support that; about half of sexually-active youth used condoms in their last sexual encounter, and 50 per cent of Grade 9 students in Quebec believe a cure exists for AIDS.
Students in Montreal have a variety of options in terms of HIV testing. Free testing is available at family doctors, clinics and CLSCs. Anonymous testing is available year-round at CLSC Metro and CLSC des Faubourgs.
By the numbers
7,400 people around the world contract HIV every day.
33.4 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV.
An estimated 1.4 million people died of HIV/AIDS in 2008.
Number of people living with HIV in Canada
in 2005: 57,000
in 2008: 65,000 (includes an approximate 16,900 people who have not been tested, but are positive).
– 67,442 Canadians reported testing positive for HIV from Nov. 1985 – Dec. 31, 2008.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates approximately 22,300 Canadians have died of HIV/AIDS.
– An estimated 48,100 of Canadians are living with HIV infection in 2008 and aware of their HIV status.
– The remaining 16,900 persons, or an estimated 26 per cent of prevalent cases, are unaware of their HIV infection.