UPEI first university in Canada to take part in national project to eradicate HIV
The University of Prince Edward Island is the first university in the country to launch a project working to eradicate human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Canada. I’m Ready to Know is an initiative of REACH Nexus, a national research group working on how to address HIV and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections in Canada. The project has targeted a number of universities, and UPEI is the first one to complete the contract and training and to offer services.
The goal of the initiative is to implement, improve, and evaluate low-barrier options for access to HIV self-testing. The project is distributing 50,000 free HIV self-testing kits across the country, and the I'm Ready team particularly wants to get them into the hands of first-time testers or those who are undiagnosed. The team reports that 31 per cent of their participants indicated that self-testing through I'm Ready was the first time they tested, and the majority of them were under 30 years of age. This indicates that younger individuals may prefer self-testing. By launching the program in universities, this demographic, which includes international students, will be provided with opportunities for testing, information, and support.
Marilyn Barrett, director of the UPEI Health and Wellness Centre, said she chose to get involved in the project because the centre’s vision is “Healthy Campus. Healthy Community. Healthy Island.” As part of that vision, she and her colleagues want to raise awareness on campus of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, including HIV.
“Since 2012, advancements have been made in the treatment and prevention options for HIV,” said Barrett. “Knowing your status can ensure that you get the right treatment and continue to live a long and healthy life. With the proper treatment, HIV can become undetectable, making it untransmissible.”
Participation in I'm Ready is anonymous, and UPEI participants can control their own pathway through the program. Participants are required to download the I'm Ready, Test mobile app and follow a few steps to complete the testing. They can choose to have up to three self-test kits delivered to their home or another address, or they can opt to pick up a single kit at the UPEI Health and Wellness Centre. Once the test is completed, participants are asked to record their results in the app anonymously and have the option to access more information. Follow-up surveys are also sent through the app to determine whether participants have accessed care and supports if needed.
According to the Chief Public Health Office of Prince Edward Island, HIV rates on PEI average 2.4 cases per 100,000 population.