HIV Self Testing & Women
The HIV Self Test was approved in Canada on November 3, 2020. Unlike other types of HIV testing, this test is a do-it-yourself test, much like a home pregnancy test. This means you follow instructions to collect your blood sample, conduct the test, and interpret the results yourself.
The process is similar to that used in the Point of Care Test you may have done at an STBBI clinic, birth control clinic, or in an outreach testing setting. The test screens for HIV, and if the Self Test has a positive result, it needs to be confirmed through a standard HIV blood test. While the HIV Self Test results are private to you, the positive confirmatory test is reported to public health. If you test positive, it is important to seek treatment and care very soon after your positive result because starting HIV treatment right away is beneficial to your long-term health. If you choose, you can also get a confirmatory test at an anonymous HIV testing clinic, where your test results remain anonymous. Once you decide to seek treatment and care, your provider will request a name-based test for your medical file.
Accessing the Self Test
The HIV Self Test is available for purchase online at www.insti.comopens in a new window and will also be made available at some time in the future through pharmacies and other retail services. HIV Self Tests are also available for free through two HIV Self Testing research projects:
Is currently a pilot project running out of Ottawa and one location in Toronto, with plans to expand across other regions in Ontario.
Is a national project set to start in 2021, which will have multiple sites across Ontario.
More information on these programs will become available as they progress. To see how the HIV Self Test kit works, please check out this short video.
When is the best time to get tested for HIV?
Whether you’re using the HIV Self Test or another type of testing, it is important to note that HIV may not show up right away after an exposure or potential exposure to HIV.
In Ontario, it is recommended that you get tested for HIV as soon as possible after a potential exposure (this is a baseline test to assess if there was HIV present before the potential exposure), at 3 weeks after the exposure, and at 6 weeks after the exposure. A positive test at any of these time points indicates HIV infection. A negative result at all three of these time points rules out HIV infection from that exposure.
For more information about Ontario’s newly released HIV Testing Guidelines, see “Ontario Guidelines for Providers Offering HIV Testing” (2023).opens in a new window
Why is HIV Self Testing Important for Women?
HIV Self Testing is an exciting development; it makes HIV testing something you can do in a private setting or with the support of someone you trust. This can be an empowering tool for women to take control over their health, access care and support, or make choices to prevent HIV and ensure they live long and healthy lives. For women who have faced barriers to HIV testing due to gender-based discrimination or social, economic, and geographical barriers, this tool may mean increased access to testing and increased control over their health. It also may create opportunities for women to get connected to care earlier, while ensuring that they have the control to make decisions that impact their health care.
What Concerns Exist about HIV Self Testing for Women
While HIV Testing may be an exciting tool for many women, there are also concerns that are important to be aware of. Currently, the test has limited availability for free and requires people to purchase it from the manufacturer. Other options will include the two research projects which will provide it for free. The cost, or requirement to participate in research, may be barriers for some people to access it.
In some cases, there are concerns that women may face pressure to take an HIV Self Test. This concern has been raised by sex workers, and those facing gender-based violence or those who face situations where they can be coerced or forced to take the test by the use of physical violence or have their financial support, housing, or other supports taken away.
It can also be very emotionally difficult to take a HIV test. Pre- and post-test counselling, referrals for follow-up confirmatory testing, and linkages to care are an important part of the testing process. There have been concerns raised about the absence of these with the HIV Self Test.
Whether you are a health-care or social support worker, or have a friend interested in taking an HIV Self Test, it is important for us to support each other and ensure we know all the information. For more information about how the test works, test results, accuracy, where to get a follow-up confirmatory test, where to get connected to care, and research about the test, see these links:
Resources for self testing
HIV Testing Ontario opens in a new window
Information about Accessing Support and Referrals opens in a new window
Sexual Health Info Line opens in a new window
Information on Where to Find Sexual Health Services opens in a new window
CATIE: Canadians Source for HIV and Hepatitis C Information opens in a new window
Rapid Response Free HIV Self-Testing: Basic Practices Positivity, Rates, and Associated Costs opens in a new window
Webinar: HIV Self-Testing National Survey Results: Knowledge, Access, Usability, Supports, and Barriers
HIV Self Testing Guidelines opens in a new window
HIV Testing and Reporting in Ontario opens in a new window