June 7 th , TORONTO – The I’m Ready program – the first of its kind in Canada led by REACH Nexus at MAP Centre for Urban Solutions – continues its roll-out of 50,000 free HIV self-test kits to reach undiagnosed individuals and connect them to appropriate care and supports. Starting today, participants will also have access to free COVID-19 rapid antigen testing kits and KN95 masks when they access the I’m Ready, Test mobile app on an iOS or Android smart phone. These rapid tests and masks are being provided through the Stop the Spread and Stay Safe program, thanks to the Canadian Red Cross and Health Canada.
I’m Ready wants to ensure low barrier access to home testing so that participants and their partners can make the best decisions about when and where to access care. Individuals have the option of delivery or can pick up items at over 80 locations across Canada. The program has already registered 3,672 participants who have ordered a total of 9,085 HIV self-test kits – with 31% individuals identified as this being their first-time testing.
“I’m Ready is working – we’re reaching the undiagnosed and learning more about who we are able to reach and support. Being able to monitor and evaluate progress in real time is key. As part of the work moving forward, we’re now working with community groups to tailor the messaging and outreach to engage and support more people from the key populations we serve.” shared Dr. Sean B. Rourke, I’m Ready’s principal investigator and a scientist at MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital.
Participants, who must be 18 years of age or older, create an anonymous profile, answer surveys, can order up to 3 free HIV self-tests for delivery or pick-up at community sites, take the test, and share results. An additional resource, delivered in partnership with Women’s Health in Women’s Hands (WHIWH) and the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC), includes the option to connect with direct peer navigator support at any time through the I’m Ready,Talk telehealth platform. In Canada, an estimated 70,000 people live with HIV as of today, the virus that causes AIDS, and 13 per cent of those (which is >8,000 people) are unaware of their status. HIV also disproportionately impacts men who have sex with men, African, Caribbean and other Black people, Indigenous Peoples, and people who use substances and inject drugs.
This is why the program’s technology and research-based approach to reach and support these communities – including those who are marginalized because of systemic racism, the legacy of colonization and residential schools, and stigma and discrimination in various forms including gender-based and against LGBTQ2+ communities is so important.
“We have incorporated a direct peer navigator support system representative of these key populations to support those who need help testing through the program,” said Wangari Tharao, Director of Research and Programs (WHIWH). “It is imperative that every Canadian should have access, choice and support for HIV testing and care, regardless of who they are or where they live.”
The I’m Ready research program is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR)’s Strategic Initiatives, and the St. Michael’s Foundation. We are thrilled to be working with Women’s Health in Women’s Hands (WHIWH), the Canadian HIV/AIDS Black, African & Caribbean Network (CHABAC), and the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) as inaugural partners, among other partners across Canada.
“We’ve made significant progress from the time Health Canada approved this country’s first HIV self-test in November 2020,” said Dr. Rourke. “And with the continued support of our partners and funders, we know we can continue to sustain and scale this program and continue to provide targeted efforts to reach those who are undiagnosed with HIV.”
About REACH Nexus
REACH Nexus is an ambitious national research group working on how to address HIV, Hepatitis C and other STBBIs (sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections) in Canada. Our focus is on reaching the undiagnosed, implementing and scaling up new testing options, strengthening connections to care, improving access to options for prevention (PrEP and PEP) and ending HIV stigma. REACH Nexus is part of MAP
Centre for Urban Health Studies at St. Michael's Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, and is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
About MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions
MAP is a world-leading research centre dedicated to creating a healthier future for all. Through big-picture research and street-level solutions, our scientists tackle complex community health issues — many at the intersection of health and equity. Internationally recognized for ground breaking science and innovation, MAP has changed the way the world understands the health consequences of social inequality in Canada. Together with our community and policy partners, we are charting the way to the world’s healthiest cities: places where people, communities, and the political, economic, social, environmental, and health infrastructures come together so that everyone can thrive. MAP is part of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital and is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto. St. Michael’s is a site of Unity Health Toronto, which also includes Providence Healthcare and St. Joseph’s Health Centre. Learn more at www.MAPhealth.ca
Adriana Suppa, Senior Communications Advisor, REACH Nexus