Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is expanding its routine HIV testing program to Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish in an effort to improve early diagnosis and change perceptions around testing.
"Basically what we're doing is de-stigmatizing HIV testing," explained Dr. Paul Martiquet, the coastal medical health officer for VCH. "Rather than just testing only high-risk individuals, we're expanding the program to everybody now."
Medical staff at the Whistler Health Care Centre, the Pemberton Health Care Centre and family physician offices began offering HIV tests to patients on Oct. 15. Testing will begin at Squamish General Hospital and area physician offices on Oct. 29.
Tests will now be offered when a patient's other blood tests are ordered as recommended in B.C.'s new Provincial HIV Testing Guidelines. Patients will have the right to refuse the test if they so choose.
Previously, a patient had to request an HIV test, or have one recommended by a family physician if the individual was believed to be at risk, Martiquet said.
An estimated 25 per cent of people with HIV are unaware they carry the virus, according to VCH.
"Although the risk is extremely low for the majority of patients, it's still important that they're provided an opportunity to learn their condition and, if positive, begin treatment as soon as possible," said Martiquet.
Martiquet noted that more than 60 patients have been diagnosed with HIV since routine testing began in Vancouver hospitals in October 2011. The program has since expanded to Richmond, the North Shore, Powell River and the Sunshine Coast.
HIV positivity rates in Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish are either at the provincial average or below, Martiquet noted.
For more information, head to www.vch.ca.