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Research program to distribute 50,000 free HIV self-testing kits across Canada

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A new research program will distribute 50,000 free HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) self-testing kits across Canada to reach people who are undiagnosed and get them connected to care, with the goal of identifying factors that affect access to testing and care and ultimately, ending Canada’s HIV epidemic.

The I’m Ready research program, launched on Wednesday (June 2) with an online event featuring Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, is accessible through a website and mobile app, which users can access anonymously.

Participants will receive an HIV self-testing kit – which is proven to be fast and highly effective – and have access to a telehealth-style peer navigation service to link them to more information about prevention and care.

“We’ve come so far in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and now we have all the tools we need to end HIV”, says Sean B. Rourke, the study’s principal investigator and scientist at the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions, in a press release, available on the Unity Health Toronto website.

Rourke adds that the program “uses technology to reach and serve people who are marginalized because of systemic racism, residential schools and the legacy of ongoing colonization, and stigma and discrimination in various forms – including gender-based and against LGBTQ2+ communities”.

The I’m Ready program is launched just six months after Health Canada approved the country’s first HIV self-test. The results of a cross-Canada clinical trial led by REACH Nexus, at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions of St. Michael’s Hospital, was the last step needed for the review and approval.

To participate in the program, participants will need an iOS or Android smartphone to download the I’m Ready, Test mobile app. Through the app, participants will be asked to create a profile and answer a pre-test survey. Participants can choose to have up to three self-test kits delivered to their home or another address, or opt to pick up kits at any one of 75 pickup locations across the country.

Once the participant has their self-test kit, they should follow the steps in the app and use the test kit’s instructions to take the self-test. Once complete, they will anonymously record their results in the app and receive access to more information about treating or preventing HIV.

In Canada, an estimated 65,000 people live with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and 13 per cent of those are unaware of their status.

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