Skip to main content

Four thousand HIV self-test kits: results

Soon-to-be-renamed ACNS has delivered more than 4000 HIV self-tests in NS over the past 16 months. Here's a very short report about the program.

“Access to sexual health testing services are abysmal in Nova Scotia with long wait times for basic tests and a lack of readily available treatment options outside of specialized care settings,” says Chris Aucoin, ACNS Executive Director.  “Just to be seen can take weeks for some people both symptomatic and asymptomatic.“

“This project filled a massive gap in testing by providing people with access to HIV testing. Many people would come to us to get tests to tie them over until their respective sexual health appointments," says Jordan Upshaw, HIV Self-Test Program Lead.

“While ACNS has been grateful for this program, we’re very disappointed that the funding to support HIV Self-test distribution is ending next month,” says Upshaw, “there’s still a long way to go to meet demand. The traditional testing infrastructure in NS is still grossly inadequate to meet past and current demand, let alone meet the demand there would be if every sexually active person got tested as often as is recommended!”

“This project has done wonders for our community in Nova Scotia – we were able to hand out thousands of test kits across the whole province.” Upshaw

Program observations

ACNS data showed two trends: 1) many people were first time testers, and 2) many people were between 18-25. This addressed a previously unacknowledged gap in sexual health services for young people – many of which still have parental oversight when it comes to medical services which may prevent stigmatized services such as HIV tests.

Of the thousands of tests ACNS has handed out, the vast majority were to people under 30. "Youth in particular are a hard to reach population but sometimes represent some of the highest risk based on behaviors and practices," says Aucoin, "this demographic often does not hold agency over their sexual health as many are still transitioning away from their parents care and thus medical oversight. Many would go untested due to stigma and social factors such as being nervous to disclose sexual activity to parents who handled booking, etc."

Many Nova Scotians were amazed by the fact they could test for HIV in their home, many reported never they never considered testing for HIV before this test as they didn’t feel at risk and it wasn’t worth the hassle – particularly women.

Many people who were averse to medical settings or who had experienced medical trauma and racism found solace in being able to come to our community-based office and test on-site with a peer. This changed a daunting medical process into a peer-to-peer education / informational / emotionally supportive interaction that provided positive health outcomes – in these interactions we could share more health-related information such as information about PEP, PrEP, condoms, etc.

The HIV self-test project has drastically improved the landscape in NS where testing is hard to access and also allowed ACNS to reach demographics that usually aren’t included in HIV prevention work but may intersect, such as queer women. For some HIV is never mentioned by their doctor so learning about a self-test and being able to utilize that changed their perspective and knowledge base around HIV but also allowed them agency around their health.

The public universally supported this initiative and thought it was incredibly valuable. Many people came to us seeking an urgent test because of fear, anxiety, or paranoia and were struggling to access any form of quick test. It generally brought people to us as well, which allowed for open conversations around risk and sexual health.

Aucoin adds, "While funding is running out the end of this fiscal, the Public Health Agency of Canada has told us that they will continue to provide us with the tests free of charge moving forward. What we will not have after March 31 is financial resources to ship across NS (as we’ve been doing a LOT of), wages and overhead for the staff time to run the program, overhead for booths at Prides, and events like the Sex Show that was just here, etc., etc."