HIV-Aids awareness reached its peak in the 1990s with Magic Johnson and the Hollywood film Philadelphia, But the public health agency of Canada estimates that 21 per cent of the infected population are still unaware of their HIV-positive status.

A new pilot project launched today, on Valentine’s Day, hopes to change that. It only takes minutes, requires just a light finger prick and, for the next six months, Shoppers Drug Mart on LeMarchant Road in St. John’s and on West Street in Corner Brook will be offering a free rapid HIV testing.

It is part of a new study by Memorial University. The aim is to discover whether a community, pharmacy-based rapid HIV screening program is acceptable, feasible and effective in reaching those at high risk and those who have never been tested.
HIV testing has always been available through family doctors, sexual health clinics or in hospitals. However, if people are without a family doctor or live outside the St. John’s area, it can be more challenging to be tested. Testing at the local pharmacy could help. Early HIV diagnosis and treatment increases life expectancy, improves quality of life and reduces HIV transmission. While results take just a minute, a visit will include pre, and post counseling. A positive test will result in a referral for additional testing to confirm the results as well as support services.