It’s estimated that one in five Canadians living with HIV don’t know they have it.
On Wednesday, the first national HIV Testing Day aimed to change that.
The national event got its start in Saskatoon two years ago.
“It started with a coalition of organizations in Saskatoon that wanted to do something about the HIV rates. We thought, ‘why not have a testing day?’” AIDS Saskatoon’s executive director Jason Mercredi said.
In 2017, it grew to a provincial day and on Wednesday, it was held nationwide, with more than 60 testing sites from coast to coast.
“We’d like to see this event become annual and to standardize testing. That means everybody gets tested when they go for their yearly checkup, regardless if they think they’re at risk or not,” Mercredi said.
“HIV is different now. Before it seemed to be a death sentence [and] it was really serious, but now it’s different with medication and knowing your status. If you know, then you can be treated and it can be managed and people can live long and healthy lives,” Saskatoon Sexual Health executive director Heather Hale said.
More than 81,000 HIV tests were done in the province last year, which is a 71 per cent increase from 2008.
“It’s such a much-needed day to respond to the rising needs,” said Gary Lacasse, the executive director of the Canadian AIDS Society, the organization spearheading this new initiative.
Lacasse said he hoped the national day brings awareness to testing and reduce HIV stigma.
In 2016, Saskatchewan’s HIV rates were 2.3 times the national average, or 14.5 cases per 100,000 people.
“It’s an epidemic proportion in Saskatchewan, that’s for sure,” Lacasse said.
“We are leading the nation and we have led the nation for a decade and so we need to make sure HIV is staying in people’s mind and staying in people’s conversations,” Mercredi said.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health recommends HIV testing at least once every five years in all adults age 13 to 70.
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