Community Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of people of diverse sexualities and genders through research and intervention development. After years of advocacy by gay, bisexual, trans, Two-Spirit, and queer people (GBT2Q) for increased testing options, Canada’s first HIV self-test was approved on November 2, 2020!

Approximately 14% of people in Canada living with HIV are unaware of their status and don’t have access to treatment. With the introduction of HIV self-testing, community members now have a new option to manage their sexual health on their terms. This new technology has the potential to reach those who experience barriers within a testing system not designed to work for them.

“Many people do not come forward because of stigma. Having more accessible tests and low barrier options is critical for people to get tested so they know their status,” says Dr. Sean Rourke, the principal investigator who led the work to study the performance, acceptance, and usability of the INSTI HIV self test that played a critical role in the license application.

Community-Based Research Centre, as part of the CIHR Centre for REACH 3.0, will be working alongside GBT2Q community members to explore the feasibility, acceptability and uptake of HIV self-testing. “The introduction of HIV self-testing is long overdue and the next challenge is facilitating access to those most marginalized within GBT2Q communities,” says Chris Draenos, RN, CBRC’s National HIV and STBBI Testing and Implementation Manager.

“Testing is key to HIV prevention efforts, and the recent availability of HIV self-testing kits in Canada has the potential to reach more 2S/LGBTQIA+ people living with undiagnosed HIV and link them to treatment and care, so that they can achieve an undetectable viral load, meaning they cannot pass HIV on to others,” said Brook Biggin, CBRC’s Interim Executive Director. “Through a partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, dozens of community-based organizations, and queer- and trans-owned businesses, we’ll be providing 15,000 free HIV self-test kits to queer and trans folks in Canada, through three programs designed to remove common barriers to testing.”

The three-pronged program consists of the following:

  • Test Now: CBRC will provide free HIV self-test kits to 2S/LGBTQIA+ folks through a network of dozens of community-based organizations and queer/trans-owned or friendly businesses (e.g., bars, bathhouses and bookstores) across Canada. With low barriers to access, Test Now makes obtaining HIV self-test kits as simple as going to a local community-based organization or trusted business and leaving with as many kits as you need. Note: This program will roll out through December, with more organizations and businesses added to the list as they come onboard. More info:
  • Test@Home: For those who want further comfort and confidentiality, or who might live outside of urban centres, this program will mail up to four HIV self-test kits, shipped in discreet packaging, to an address of one’s choice for folks to use themselves or share with friends or people in their sexual or social networks. More info:
  • Medicine Bundle: Designed by and for Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous people, CBRC’s Two-Spirit Team will provide a special Medicine Bundle in what is colonially known as Britisth Columbia. These packages include, various Indigenous medicines (e.g. sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar, lavender, etc.), an HIV self-test kit, and additional sexual health resources. The purpose of this bundle is to bring the sacredness back into sex and give folks access to a holistic approach to one’s sexual health needs. More info:

Through pilot versions of some of these programs, CBRC has already been able get 8,856 HIV self-test kits into the hands of queer and trans folks in the country.

CBRC have created two videos to draw attention to HIV self-testing–a ground-breaking option currently available in Canada. Starring Canadian model Travis L’Henaff (who you might recognize from Canada’s Drag Race), the short videos offer a primer on the new INSTI HIV Self Test–a rapid, single-use test kit that detects HIV antibodies in minutes using a drop of blood.

In the first video, L’Henaff speaks frankly on camera about his own experience testing positive and the importance of knowing your status and working to eradicate HIV-related stigma.

In the second, he demystifies the process of taking the self-test by doing one himself and sharing his own positive result.

“After you test positive, you have some knowledge and knowledge is power,” says L’Henaff. “You can start to make some informed decisions at your own pace on how you want to tackle your new HIV status.”

In addition to the videos, CBRC’s National STBBI Testing and Linkage Implementation Manager, Chris Draenos, has published a blog post about how this new self-testing technology has the potential to reach people who experience barriers to testing.


About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.