June 27 is National HIV Testing Day—and it’s easier than ever to know your HIV status.
Since December 2018, an HIV test may be included with regular diagnostic blood work at Interior Health emergency departments.
Over the last five years, Interior Health has implemented STOP HIV/AIDS, a provincial program to expand access to earlier HIV testing and provide support for individuals to start and sustain HIV medication. When people are consistently taking HIV medications their viral load drops to an undetectable level, protecting their health by preventing progression to AIDS and AIDS-related premature deaths, and stopping transmission of the virus to someone else.
“Routine HIV testing in the emergency department is one of the latest tools being used in Interior Health to end the HIV epidemic. Routine testing at a point-of-contact in the health-care system is targeted to detect those 15 per cent of HIV-positive individuals who are unaware of their HIV status,” said Dr. Michael Murphy, medical coordinator for the STOP HIV/AIDS program in Interior Health.
“I have personally treated patients who were unaware they were HIV positive and were diagnosed through testing in the emergency department.”
As with other routine blood work, patients who do not wish to have the test during their emergency visit may decline. According to Interior Health, there continues to be a stigma regarding HIV, so it is important to ensure the decision to opt out of the test is not due to misinformation.
“We see patients coming to the emergency department and needing bloodwork who have deteriorated health, and that’s exactly the criteria to indicate that patients should have an HIV test ordered. We have the perfect opportunity to help detect the 15 per cent of patients that are currently unaware of their HIV positive status,” said Dr. Jeff Hussey, an emergency department physician.
The STOP HIV/AIDS initiative has goals of outreach to marginalized groups, expanding access to early testing to diagnose those living with HIV in order to improve health outcomes and reduce transmission, and immediate and universal access to free antiretroviral therapy for all who are diagnosed HIV positive.
For more information about HIV testing, visit interiorhealth.ca.