What is an HIV self-test?
Point of Care (POC) HIV tests, also known as “rapid” HIV tests, screen for HIV antibodies and have been used in clinics and health care settings for many years. On November 2, 2020, Health Canada approved the INSTI® HIV Self-Test for use and sale. It is the same test used for POC testing in Canada, and is currently the only test approved by Health Canada for both POC and HIV Self-Testing. Research studies have confirmed that self-testing, where someone screens themselves using a POC test, is accurate and equivalent to those performed by trained healthcare providers.
This test uses a finger poke to produce a few drops of bloods which are then added to the testing kit; the results are ready in a few minutes. A negative test is considered very accurate for the window period, which is 3 to 12 weeks for antibodies to be detected by this test. A positive test result must be confirmed with a standard serology laboratory test.
HIV self-testing in British Columbia (BC)
HIV self-testing is not part of the BC Provincial POC Testing Program, and the cost of the test is not covered by the BC Medical Services Plan. Those who wish to purchase a test, can do so online from the Biolytical INSTI® HIV Self-Test website.
HIV self-testing offers a new way for people to test, intended as a complement to, but not a replacement for sexual health services. Support from a healthcare provider, non-regulated or allied healthcare provider, or Peer support person before and/or after using the HIV self-test is recommended. Support for those using the HIV self-test may include: seeking help understanding test results or the window period, support if they’re experiencing worry or anxiety, a referral for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), or linking to follow-up and care after testing if needed.
The Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) for REACH 3.0 is working with community organizations across Canada to launch a telehealth program for ordering, distributing and supporting HIV self-testing. REACH 3.0, which is planned to launch in the winter/spring 2021, will distribute free self-test kits to research study participants. The program will use a mobile app, optional Peer support, and offers resources for understanding test results and support for those who may experience worry or anxiety related to testing.
For more information
Pacific AIDS Network – Information on the REACH program and HIV self-testing
CATIE – Fact sheet on HIV self-testing
Biolytical INSTI® HIV Self-Test – Training video
Biolytical INSTI® HIV Self-Test – Purchasing a test kit