News / Edmonton

HIV tests available at two Alberta pharmacies as part of six-month study

Researchers say 21% of Canadians living with HIV don't know they have it.

Laura Keegan, director of research development with HIV Edmonton (left) and Christine Hughes, vice dean of the U of A’s faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

Kevin Tuong / Metro

Laura Keegan, director of research development with HIV Edmonton (left) and Christine Hughes, vice dean of the U of A’s faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

HIV screening tests are now available at some Alberta pharmacies as part of a six-month study launched Tuesday.

The University of Alberta was instrumental in getting the project off the ground, in light of Public Health Agency of Canada numbers estimating 21 per cent of people who are HIV-positive are unaware of their status.

“Basically we want to know, is testing in a community pharmacy setting feasible and acceptable for clients, and does it reach groups who are at risk of HIV,” said Christine Hughes, vice dean of the U of A’s faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

The U of A is partnering with Newfoundland’s Memorial University on the study, which will see tests offered at the Mint Health and Drugs pharmacy in downtown Edmonton and a Shoppers Drug Mart in Fort McMurray.

The screening test uses a finger-prick blood sample to give results within a minute.

Laura Keegan, director of research development with HIV Edmonton, said there are cultural, physical and accessibility barriers that prevent people from getting tested in Edmonton.

Some people might be afraid of the results or uncomfortable going to an STI clinic, while some might not be aware they were ever at risk–  as HIV messaging tends to specifically target people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men.

Keegan said effective testing methods, coupled with treatment, could eventually wipe out the infection.

“It’s hugely important that people know their status. Treatment is so effective now, and with very low side effects,” she said. If people are treated early and adhere to their care regime, their viral load can dwindle to the point where it is impossible for them to transmit HIV to another person, she said.

“We could end HIV if we could get to those places. And testing is key. Without that first step, we can’t get people on treatment.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the number of Canadians living with HIV rose 9.7 per cent from 2011 to 2014, to a total of 75,500.

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