An initiative started on campus in 2015 to test students for HIV and increase awareness of the disease has shown success and expansion, according to the TRU Wellness Centre.
Wellness coordinator Meaghan Hagerty said that usually between five and 10 people are tested per monthly session on campus. Particularly, its availability at events such as this year’s pride parade helped to boost numbers.
While not everyone who knows about testing takes the test, Hagerty said that the objective of promoting HIV testing is to eliminate stigma around the disease.
“It’s a historical legacy,” Hagerty said on HIV’s stigma, adding that the stigma is still evident when she has discussed HIV testing in classrooms. HIV came to the forefront in North America after an epidemic occurred during the 1980s.
“There’s a lot of misconception around what it means to live with HIV these days, and treatment has come a long way in the recent decades.”
According to a 2013 surveillance report by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the number of deaths related to HIV has been in steady decline since 1995.
Hagerty said that another goal is “trying to normalize being tested for HIV.”
It is recommended that people at low risk are tested every five years and that those at higher risk are tested once a year. According to a 2014 report by PHAC, 21 per cent of people who have HIV are unaware that they have the virus.
On the testing itself, Hagerty said that the nurses who test a student will be the ones who contact the student with their results and, if necessary, connect them to HIV support services.
“They’re there to facilitate people through that entire process,” Hagerty said.
The tests on campus are performed by a blood draw facilitated by Interior Health outreach nurses. A finger-prick test alternative is also available at other medical centres in Kamloops.
The TRU Wellness Centre and Interior Health are offering two HIV testing sessions, the first taking place on Nov. 17 and the second on Nov. 24. The extra session in November is part of Sexual Health Awareness Week, which runs from Nov. 14 to 18.
HIV is most commonly transmitted during sex or by injection drug use. As of the end of 2014, 26,400 people in Canada had died from HIV since testing began in 1985.
HIV testing can be scheduled in advance by phoning the TRU Medical Centre at 250-828-5126 or by dropping into the centre at OM 1461 to see availability.