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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

2 Vancouver pharmacies to offer customers free HIV testing in pilot project

VANCOUVER - Two Vancouver pharmacies will soon offer customers free HIV tests that will provide results on the spot in less than five minutes.

Pharmacists at the Medicine Shoppe drugstores have been trained by HIV nurses from Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care to provide testing as part of a year-long pilot project.

Medical health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson says offering HIV testing at locations such as a pharmacy helps reduce stigma around testing and makes it more acceptable to people.

The pilot project will determine whether HIV testing in pharmacies can complement existing programs at community testing sites, hospitals, walk-in clinics and through family physicians.

The Medicine Shoppes — located at 2030 Kingsway Ave. and 6180 Fraser St. — are near a Pacific Medical Walk-in Clinic, where doctors will provide support to patients and link them to treatment if required.

An HIV-positive person taking prescribed medication is up to 96 per cent less likely to transmit the infection to others, but an estimated 3,500 people in B.C. are infected with the virus and don't know it.

"We see too many people who are newly diagnosed with HIV, but are already in the advanced stages of the disease," Gustafson said in a release Tuesday. "We can't stress enough how very crucial early treatment is for those infected. While HIV is a chronic infection, early treatment prolongs and improves people's lives and reduces transmission to others."

The pilot project is funded through the province's Seek and Treat for the Optimal Prevention (STOP) of HIV-AIDS program, which focuses on engaging British Columbians in HIV prevention, testing and care. The feasibility and effectiveness of the project will be evaluated over the next 12 months.

"B.C. is recognized as a global leader in the fight against HIV-AIDS and I believe that through bold action and smart investment we can remain leaders," B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake said. "This pilot is another step forward and will go a long way to improve early diagnosis and save lives."

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