British Columbia

Routine HIV testing at Vancouver Island hospitals beginning soon

All patients admitted to a hospital on Vancouver Island will soon be asked if they would like an HIV test as part of an effort to get more people in the province tested for the disease.

The tests are part of the province's continued efforts to decrease infection rates

Routine testing for HIV will soon be rolling out at hospitals throughout Vancouver Island. (iStock)

All patients admitted to a hospital on Vancouver Island will soon be asked if they would like a voluntary HIV test as part of an effort to get more people in the province tested for the disease.

"We recognize HIV is just a routine test that needs to be undertaken, not something special as it has been in the past," said Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for the central Vancouver Island.

Starting next week, all patients admitted to hospital in Port Alberni, B.C. will be offered an HIV test as part of routine blood work. Hospitals in Campbell River and Nanaimo will follow suit this fall, and the program will be rolled out to more hospitals across the island next year.

Hasselback emphasized that the test will be voluntary.

The outreach group Aids Vancouver Island said it supports the testing as long as patients are not pressured, and confidentiality is respected.

"Because of the stigmatized nature of the disease still, it's important that consent is obtained for the test, that people are informed that they are having the test done." said the group's executive director Katrina Jensen. 

The routine testing at island hospitals follows a pilot project in Vancouver in which 94 per cent of patients accepted an HIV test when it was offered, according to Island Health.

It's estimated one in six people have an advanced form of HIV by the time they're diagnosed, and that more than half of new infections are transmitted by people who don't know they have HIV. 

B.C.'s HIV infection rate fell by 60 per cent since 1996, while rates in other provinces have remained unchanged.

With files from Megan Thomas

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