Collaborative study highlights the potential for pharmacists to support HIV testing

    As we recognize World AIDS Day on December 1st, we examine the results of a study by UAlberta faculty member Dr. Christine Hughes and researchers from MUN on the role pharmacists can play in preventing the spread of HIV.

    December 1, 2017


    As we recognize World AIDS Day, its important to remember that while significant advances have been made in HIV treatment, there is a need to improve awareness of one’s status in people living with HIV.  Estimates suggest one in five people in Canada who are living with HIV are unaware of their status. Among the barriers to testing are perceived stigma, privacy concerns, but also ease of access.


    This year on February 14th a study, funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, was launched by researchers at the Memorial University School of Pharmacy in collaboration with Dr. Christine Hughes, Professor at the UAlberta Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences exploring the role that pharmacists can play in offering HIV testing.


    Pharmacists are at the forefront of patient care as one of the most accessible medical professionals, and in Alberta pharmacists are increasingly involved in providing expanded patient-centred care and education.


    Over the course of the 6 month pilot study, a total of 4 pharmacies in Alberta and Newfoundland provided rapid HIV point-of-care testing as well as pre- and post-test counselling. Of the 123 tests performed, there was one reactive test that was confirmed as HIV infection and the individual was successfully linked to care and currently on treatment and doing well. The study also found that about 70% of those who sought testing were individuals considered to be at moderate to high risk of contracting HIV, indicating that the testing was accessed by individuals at risk.


    One of the important findings from the pilot was the positive feedback from study participants.  The purpose of the pilot was to determine the best way to offer this programming says Dr. Hughes, and nearly 100% of the participants felt that the service should be offered in pharmacies and there was a very high acceptability and confidence felt by patients receiving HIV testing by a pharmacist.


    As work continues to be done towards the HIV Edmonton and the broader World AIDS Day long-term vision of zero stigma and discrimination, zero new HIV infections, and zero AIDS-related deaths, pharmacists can play an important role.