Last year, Nine Circles was part of a project that explored the strengths and challenges of STBBI (sexually transmitted & blood borne infection) testing and education in Winnipeg. One of the discoveries made during that process was that many drop-in clients accessing safer drug use supplies at Nine Circles were not accessing STBBI testing services. As a result, an STI Testing Nurse joins a Health Educator in the supply distribution room one hour per day, four days a week in an effort to eliminate some of the barriers to testing for people who use drugs. When someone comes in for supplies during that time, they are asked if they’re interested in testing and if they are, generally the nurse can see them immediately in a nearby exam room. This eliminates the need for folks to return at another time for testing and builds on the level of trust staff who distribute safer drug use supplies already have with the people they see regularly.
The program was evaluated after its first 12 weeks. In that time frame, 17 people agreed to connect with a nurse, and 15 of those consented to testing. 40% (6) of those who were tested had never been tested before. 40% (6) tested positive for one or more STBBIs but there were no positive tests for HIV or hepatitis C.
When it comes to reducing barriers and increasing testing among people who use drugs, this initiative is one small step. Nine Circles’ Clinical & Health Promotion Teams, along with partners in health care and community, continue to explore other strategies to address the needs of this under-served population. An important part of that process will include consultation and leadership from people who use drugs in order to ensure proposed strategies will meet the needs of the community.