What is an HIV self-test?
Point of Care (POC) HIV tests, also known as “rapid” HIV tests, screen for HIV antibodies. The first POC HIV test approved by Health Canada is the INSTI® Rapid HIV Test, which has been used in clinics and health care settings for many years. In November 2020, it was approved by Health Canada for use as a Self-Test.
Research studies have shown that self-testing, where someone screens themselves using a POC test, is accurate and equivalent to those performed by trained healthcare providers.
The HIV POC test uses a finger poke to produce a few drops of blood 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 offers a 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.
Where to get HIV self-testing
HIV self-testing is not currently part of the BC Provincial POC Testing Program, and the cost of the test is not covered by the BC Medical Services Plan. However, there are some programs in British Columbia that offer HIV Self-Tests at no cost with support from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) has extended its Test@Home program which provides free HIV self-test kits by mail, promoted to LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit people in Canada. People can request up to four test kits at a time, which they can use themselves or share with someone else. Only shipping details are required, and people do not need to use their real name if they don’t want to. Peer support is available to support people in using the test, answering questions, addressing concerns, and connecting to care.
CBRC also supports the Test Now: Community Edition project for LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit people through a network of more than 20 community-based organizations across the country. Indigenous people can request HIV self-testing as a Medicine Bundle.
REACH Nexus (part of the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at Unity Health Toronto), has two ongoing initiatives where Canadians can receive free HIV self-tests.
- The I’m Ready program, funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) has collaborated with community based organizations and universities across Canada to offer HIV self-testing and telehealth support. The I’m Ready program uses the I’m Ready, Test mobile app to collect data and order kits for pick up or delivery. I’m Ready, Talk is an optional Peer Navigation service that offers support before, during and after testing to those who may experience worry or anxiety or need help getting connected to care.
- Community Link is a National community-based initiative funded by PHAC. Community Link provides front-line community based organizations with low-barrier access to HIV self-tests to reach people undiagnosed with HIV, and provide support before, during and after testing. Participating organizations are listed on https://i-am.health and receive HIV self-test kits free of charge to distribute. People can pick up to 5 HIV self-test kits, and are encouraged to share with family, friends and sexual partners.
Those who wish to purchase a test, can do so online from the Biolytical INSTI® HIV Self-Test website.
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