Programming Connection

Peer HIV Testing 

PHS Community Services Society
Vancouver, British Columbia

What is the Program?

The Peer Testing Project was a pilot that brought low-barrier, peer-administered HIV testing and support to the Downtown Eastside (DTES) through street fairs and testing events in community agencies and single-room occupancy hotels. The model challenged assumptions about how healthcare should be delivered and who should deliver it and, in so doing, significantly reduced barriers to access to HIV testing and linkage to care in the community.

The Peer Testing Project was implemented through a partnership between the PHS Community Services Society (PHS) and the Vancouver STOP Project. PHS Community Services Society is an organization that provides low-barrier health and social services and skills-building opportunities in the Downtown Eastside. It was originally called Portland Hotel Society, a reflection of its beginnings in the Portland Hotel. In 2003, PHS changed its name to acknowledge the expansion of its services at other sites. Many in the community still call PHS “Portland”, though that is no longer accurate. The Vancouver STOP Project is a collaboration between Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care.

The project represented a unique peer-healthcare provider relationship. Peers and nurses complemented the work of one another to offer the best HIV testing and linkage-to-care experience for people who experience multiple barriers to accessing healthcare. Nurses trained and supported peers to offer HIV testing and onsite nurses offered confirmatory testing for people receiving a preliminary positive result, as well as primary healthcare and psychosocial support to anyone requesting it. 

By hosting HIV testing events in public places and through a social marketing campaign, PHS hoped to reduce HIV stigma, update the community’s knowledge of HIV, begin a community dialogue about HIV and expand HIV testing and points of access to care and support for people living with HIV.

Over six months, PHS’s Peer Testing Project reached 4,773 people with rapid HIV tests and information, diagnosed 11 people with HIV and reconnected 324 people to care who already knew their HIV-positive status. While the number of people who attended PHS testing events and did not test or reconnect to care was not recorded, PHS estimates (based on the number of free meals handed out) that it reached twice as many people with up-to-date knowledge of HIV during these events.

With this model, PHS and the Vancouver STOP Project provided an opportunity to the community to contribute to solving its own challenges around access to information about HIV and testing and connection to care. They did this with community-driven solutions using capacity that exists in the community.