HIV in Canada: A primer for service providers

Access to Health Care

Key Points

  • Individual and system (or structural) level barriers impede access to health care.
  • Delayed/lack of access can lead to avoidable illness and death (morbidity and mortality).
  • Delayed/lack of access may lead to the increased spread of HIV.

Research suggests that some people living with HIV have problems accessing and navigating the healthcare system due to individual-level barriers due to personal circumstances (e.g., financial, mental health), as well as systems-level or structural barriers (e.g., geography, stigma, clinic hours).

These barriers can negatively impact the ability of some people (e.g., people who inject drugs, ethnic minorities and people with lower socioeconomic status) to access health care. For example, refugees may experience systemic-level barriers in the form of lack of access to provincial healthcare coverage. People who use drugs may experience both individual- and systemic-level barriers in the form of mental illness, stigma and discrimination and lack of providers experienced in the care of this population.

The ability to access health care may also depend on where you live in Canada. For example, people in rural communities may have fewer services available to them and may need more travel time or assistance in order to access healthcare services.

HIV care and treatment has undergone significant clinical advances, resulting in improvements in quality of life and life expectancy for people living with HIV. Increasing access to health care, by overcoming both the individual- and structural-level barriers, can reduce the burden of avoidable illness and death (morbidity and mortality) and increase the quality of life of people living with HIV. Facilitating access to testing, care and support, and treatment can also act as an HIV prevention intervention. People who know their status are more likely to reduce their risk behaviours and effective treatment reduces the risk of onward sexual transmission.


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