Canada Marks World AIDS Day with Distribution of Free HIV Self-Test Kits

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The HIV self-test approved in Canada is highly accurate, and research has shown that self-testing reaches communities that face barriers to accessing the health-care system. (Community-Based Research Centre)

In an effort to tackle the ongoing HIV challenge, the federal government of Canada is distributing approximately 200,000 free HIV self-test kits across the nation. This initiative aligns with the global goal to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

The Scale of Undiagnosed HIV in Canada

Current statistics indicate that over 6,000 Canadians live with undiagnosed HIV. This situation is particularly acute among Indigenous peoples, who account for 18 percent of new HIV cases in Canada, and among African, Caribbean, and Black populations, where knowledge of HIV status is lower than the national average.

Focus on Indigenous and Marginalized Communities

Albert McLeod, a consultant specializing in HIV/AIDS and Indigenous peoples, emphasized the importance of addressing social determinants of health and the challenges faced by Indigenous communities in accessing healthcare. The distribution of self-test kits is seen as a critical step in reaching remote and harder-to-reach populations.

A Walmart worker shows she tested negative on a government-issued rapid Covid-19 antigen test Feb. 8 in Provo, Utah. George Frey / Getty Images file

CATIE’s Role in Distribution

CATIE, a public health group, is collaborating with the federal government in this strategy. Jody Jollimore, CATIE’s executive director, highlighted that while Canada possesses the necessary tools to prevent, test, and treat HIV, the challenge lies in adequately engaging specific populations in care. “We’re just not getting them to the right people,” Jollimore said.

Government Funding and Strategy

The Canadian government has allocated $8 million for the free self-test kits, with 10,000 online orders already completed. This initiative forms part of a broader strategy to make HIV testing more accessible and convenient, especially for populations most at risk.

Public Health Data

Public Health estimates indicate more than 1,500 new HIV infections in Canada in 2020, with women, men who have sex with men, and injectable drug users constituting a large portion of new cases. One-third of the new infections are contracted through heterosexual sex.

The Path Forward

Jollimore stressed the importance of continued investment in HIV prevention and treatment. “We’ve got to continue to invest in HIV until we get across the finish line because otherwise, we’re going to leave a lot of people behind,” she added, emphasizing the need to ensure that everyone has access to testing and treatment.