July 29, 2014 6:13 pm

2 Vancouver pharmacies offer free HIV tests in a pilot project

For the first time in Canada, two Vancouver pharmacies will experiment with offering on-site HIV tests to their customers.

Pharmacists at two Vancouver Medicine Shoppe pharmacies, located at 2030 Kingsway Ave and 6180 Fraser St, will now be offering HIV tests while their customers are waiting for their prescriptions.

The test results will be available on the spot in less than five minutes.

If the patient receives a preliminary positive test, a further confirmation will be required.

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Each pharmacy is located next to a walk-in clinic, where doctors can provide support to patients and refer them for proper care and treatment based on test results.

The test will be offered for free for the duration of one year.

This pilot project will determine whether HIV testing in the pharmacy setting can complement existing testing options.

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The pilot will also be expanded to pharmacies on the Vancouver Island in the next 4-6 weeks.

More than 60 patients in Vancouver hospitals have tested positive for HIV since routine testing began in 2011. These patients would otherwise not have known they were infected.

VCH says they see many newly diagnosed people who are already in the advanced stages of the disease.

However, researchers say early treatment prolongs and improves people’s lives and reduces transmission to others.

It is estimated there are 3,500 people in British Columbia who are infected with HIV, but don’t know it.

Medical health officer for VCH Dr. Réka Gustafson says they have been expanding HIV testing in the last four years to improve accessibility.

Gustafson says the evidence that early diagnosis is extremely beneficial to a patient infected with HIV became compelling only over the last 5 to 10 years.

“When the evidence that we should be diagnosing HIV early became compelling, that was the first time we started asking the question – how are we doing with diagnosis?”

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Though data gathering and research, it became clear more could be done, says Gustafson.

By offering a free HIV test in the comfort of a pharmacy, Gustafson says patients can access it if they were actively thinking of getting tested, but will also be offered the test if they did not originally seek to be checked for HIV.

“Each different setting reaches a slightly different population. There are folks who are very comfortable walking through the doors of an STI clinic. There are those who are not,” says Gustafson. “There are those who are very comfortable accessing this stuff from their family doctor, but there are others who may not have a family doctor or do not go very often.”

Gustafson says the pilot launched three weeks ago without any real promotion, and eight tests have already been done during that time.

Whether the number of people getting tested at the pharmacy will pick up is something the researchers are looking to find out.

“We often, as people, known what the right health intervention is for us, but there is often an inertia to actually going out and getting it,” says Gustafson. “If it is being offered where you already are, and maybe waiting for 5-10 minutes anyway, I suspect it will prompt many people who may know that HIV testing is part of routine care for everyone, but may not have found the time or the opportunity to have a test.”

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