VANCOUVER (CUP) — Rapid HIV testing clinics on the University of British Columbia campus are making it possible for students to find out their status in just 60 seconds, dramatically quicker than the one- to two-day wait usually required for HIV test results.
The rapid HIV testing clinics are part of the Seek and Prevent for Optimal Treatment (STOP) HIV/AIDS Project, a joint initiative from UBC Student Health Service and Vancouver Coastal Health. It is meant to encourage sexually active students — or those who have used IV drugs — to be tested annually for HIV.
According to Dr. Patricia Mirwaldt, Student Health Services director, 55–60 per cent of undergraduate students have been sexually active, and of those, most have had 1–2 partners. Yet only an estimated 30–34 per cent of students have ever had an HIV test.
The test involves a finger prick for blood, which results in a “negative” or “maybe positive” result within 60 seconds.
Sexually active heterosexual women are the campaign’s targeted demographic, since a growing number of HIV diagnoses have been among heterosexual women, who aren’t typically considered “at risk.”
“A lot of people who are not considered to be at high risk for contracting HIV are sometimes of the idea that, because they are not high risk, they don’t need to be tested — and we know that’s not the case,” said Zoe Menge, a nurse with UBC Student Health Services. “The majority of people who are testing positive these days are actually not in the high risk category.”
Mirwaldt emphasized the importance of knowing and managing your HIV status. “About a third of people who have HIV don’t know they have it. And that’s the group that’s actually spreading it,” she said.
Encouraging STI testing as part of regular checkups has been recommended by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, according to Menge. Even students who are in a monogamous relationship are encouraged to get tested once a year, because “life happens,” Menge said.
Paige Zhang, an assistant for the Student Health Services STOP HIV/AIDS Project, said the Know Your Status campaign is not just about making people aware of the risks, but also about educating and reducing stigma around HIV and STIs.
“The project is here at UBC specifically to raise awareness not only about HIV testing but also about other STI testing. At the rapid HIV testing clinics, [the nurses] will be providing lab requisitions to get other tests. [It’s] about providing a sort of sex-positive environment to promote these issues which are really important to overall good health,” said Zhang.
So far, 34 students have found out their status via the rapid HIV testing clinics.
The Know Your Status campaign has already hosted one on-campus rapid HIV testing clinic on Oct. 27, and two more are scheduled in the upcoming months, on Nov. 17 and Dec. 1.