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Pharmacies in Edmonton, Fort McMurray to offer free HIV tests

University of Alberta.
University of Alberta. Global News

The University of Alberta hopes a new study that offers free HIV tests in two Alberta pharmacies will encourage more people to get tested for the virus.

Starting Tuesday, free, immediate HIV tests will be available at one pharmacy in Edmonton and one in Fort McMurray. The U of A said most people visit their doctor, a clinic or hospital to be tested, but they hope this six-month study will offer people more access to a quick test.

“People don’t get tested for a variety of reasons because either they don’t know they are infected, they are reluctant to go to traditional clinics or for confidentiality reasons,” said Christine Hughes, the study lead and vice dean of the U of A’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“The goal of our study is to develop an effective model of HIV testing through pharmacies and encourage more people to get tested.”

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An estimated 75,500 Canadians were living with HIV at the end of 2014, a number that jumped 9.7 per cent from the 2011 figures. Around the world, there are an estimated 36.7 million people living with HIV.

READ MORE: Southern Alberta man living with HIV: ‘I figured it was a death sentence’

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that 21 per cent of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware of their positive status. And more than half of new infections are being transmitted by people who don’t know they have HIV.

The Public Health Agency of Canada believes there is a need for improved access to testing so infections are detected earlier and so people can access care to prevent further transmission.

READ MORE: Smoking is now more likely to kill HIV patients than the virus itself

Hughes said she hopes the study will determine whether having HIV tests available in pharmacies will lead to more being getting tested.

“It will also tell us the type of person we will get from the study – those at high risk of getting infected, those who haven’t been tested for a while or those who are unaware they are at risk of infection.”

Brook Biggin with HIV Edmonton said there isn’t sufficient opportunity for Alberta to access “low-barrier HIV testing.”

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“By offering rapid HIV testing in a pharmacy environment, we are able to reach groups at higher risk of HIV infection who may not access other methods of HIV testing or may not feel comfortable accessing testing from their family doctor or the STI clinic,” Biggin said.

READ MORE: South African HIV vaccine trial could be ‘final nail in the coffin’ for the disease

The test is confidential and the results are immediate, Hughes said. People are tested in a private room and if the test comes back positive, the patient will be sent for additional blood work to confirm if they have HIV. The additional tests take about a week.

The tests will be available at the River City Centre Shoppers Drug Mart in Fort McMurray and Mint Health + Drugs-CMP on 101 Street in Edmonton. Those who wish to be tested in Edmonton will be required to make an appointment on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

The U of A study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.