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Concerns raised over access to STI testing in Halifax

Testing capacity reduced during the second wave of COVID-19 will be expanded by next week

2 min read
caption The STI testing clinic located in the Dickson building is currently only providing tests for patients with symptoms or other health concerns.
Darrell Roberts

Some Halifax residents have raised concerns after being forced to wait for routine screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at local clinics.

Due to an influx of COVID-19 tests, STI testing capacity was reduced at the diagnostic microbiology lab in Halifax. Although routine screenings resume next week, some patients say this reduction in service highlights a deficiency in resources for Halifax sexual health clinics.

Early last week, Tamim Arabi called the STI clinic at the QEII Health Sciences Centre for routine STI screening but was told that the clinic is not doing these tests due to a lack of resources.

At the moment, the STI clinic at the QEII offers screening appointments on Mondays and Thursdays from 5-8 p.m. and patients must call ahead on the day that they want to get tested. Currently, the clinic is only offering testing for patients with symptoms or additional health concerns.

“My frustration is that being proactive with one’s sexual health is very important,” said Arabi.

“Removing that resource from the city, I fear that it’s going to cause a lot of damage in terms of people going around not knowing their STI status and spreading things around.”

The Signal spoke to another clinic user who had a similar experience.

The patient, an 18-year-old woman who requested not to be named for privacy reasons, said that she also called the clinic to schedule an appointment for a routine screening early last week but she was told to try again in two to three weeks.

The woman said that she was given the number for the Halifax Sexual Health Centre.

But Abbey Ferguson, an administrator with the Halifax Sexual Health Centre, confirmed that their facility is also not performing routine screening based on a directive from Nova Scotia’s health authority.

Routine screening to resume next week

Dr. Todd Hatchette is the medical microbiologist and infectious disease physician who oversees the STI clinic at the QEII as well as the diagnostic testing lab for microbiology samples in the central zone.

He said the pandemic led to the halt in routine screening.

When the second wave of the virus hit Halifax in November, COVID-19 testing hit a peak volume of 4,000 tests a day. In an interview Wednesday, Hatchette said that this spike forced the lab to redeploy staff and divert resources away from STI screenings and toward COVID-19 testing.

“These decisions are not made without thinking of the consequences,” said Hatchette. “But unfortunately, sometimes you need to make hard decisions when you have limited resources.”

Routine screenings for STIs have been paused since November, but Hatchette says that the clinic at the QEII will resume these tests next week.

Arabi, however, argues that sexual health was not prioritized even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Resources were so limited,” said Arabi regarding the long waits and limited hours at the STI clinic. “It was a very frustrating experience.”

The pandemic has led to some positive innovations. Both Arabi and Hatchette agree that a new, appointment-based model for STI screening improves on the former walk-in system.

Additionally, the QEII clinic offers take-home swab kits for patients who do not need to see a doctor. According to Hatchette, these kits should again be available at the QEII clinic for routine screenings by next week.

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About the author

Darrell Roberts

Darrell Roberts is a student journalist from St. John's. He enjoys reading and writing about the latest in culture and politics.

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