Ottawa drug store is one of the first in Ontario to offer a rapid HIV test

Treatment for HIV has undergone a revolution in recent decades, turning what was once a death sentence into a chronic illness for many.

Meanwhile, an HIV vaccine could be available in the next couple of years.

Despite all the medical progress made in the last decade, people continue to be infected with HIV and a significant number of them aren’t even aware of it. If an early diagnosis is made, there tend to be fewer complications and better odds of surviving the disease. 

How to combat this continuing problem?

A new pilot project based in Ottawa and Toronto, sponsored by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network aims to do just that. This project based in two downtown Shoppers Drug Mart locations is currently offering rapid testing within the pharmacy.

Ben Gunter (above), is the owner and pharmacist at the Shoppers Drug Mart at Bank and Gladstone (in Downtown Ottawa).  

Ben Gunter said his pharmacy is one of two in the province — the other is in Toronto — taking part in the project.

There are already numerous places where people can get tested for HIV, including doctors’ offices, sexual health centres and specialty clinics, but there are always those who slip through the cracks. The goal of the project is broadening accessibility to the test, and raising awareness.   

“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel,” said Gunter, “we are trying to launch an alternative model.”

Gunter specializes in treatment and prevention of HIV, which made his location a perfect fit for the project. (The project began in early January 2020).

The tests will be available Monday evenings from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the pharmacy as part of a weekly clinic. It is also important to note that the test is free and no appointment is necessary.

The rapid point of care test screens people for an antibody associated with HIV. The results take approximately 90 seconds to appear. Patients with positive results are then sent to The Ottawa Hospital for further testing.

Gunter hopes that the pilot project catches people who might not get testing elsewhere.

It is estimated that 14% of Canadians with HIV don’t know they are positive. 

In 2018, the highest rate of HIV in Ottawa was among men between 30 and 34 years old who had a rate of 22 per 100,000. 11% of cases were among people who use drugs.

If the project is successful the OHTN will try to broaden the program in order to help other regions in the province that are affected, and to shrink the gap of people not being tested.

To find out more about the project, click on this link:

Article Referenced for post by Elizabeth Payne – The Ottawa Citizen: