Successes and gaps in uptake of regular, voluntary HIV testing for hidden street- and off-street sex workers in Vancouver, Canada

AIDS Care. 2015;27(4):499-506. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2014.978730. Epub 2014 Nov 27.


Despite evidence globally of the heavy HIV burden among sex workers (SWs) as well as other poor health outcomes, including violence, SWs are often excluded from accessing voluntary, confidential and non-coercive health services, including HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. This study therefore assessed the prevalence and association with regular HIV testing among street- and off-street SWs in Vancouver, Canada. Cross-sectional baseline data were used from a longitudinal cohort known as "An Evaluation of Sex Worker's Health Access" (AESHA; January 2010-July 2012). This cohort included youth and adult SWs (aged 14+ years). We used multivariable logistic regression to assess the relationship between explanatory variables and having a recent HIV test (in the last year). Of the 435 seronegative SWs included, 67.1% reported having a recent HIV test. In multivariable logistic regression analysis, having a recent HIV test remained significantly independently associated with elevated odds of inconsistent condom use with clients [adjusted (multivariable) odds ratios, AOR: 2.59, 95% confidence intervals [95% CIs]: 1.17-5.78], injecting drugs (AOR: 2.33, 95% CIs: 1.17-4.18) and contact with a mobile HIV prevention programme (AOR: 1.76, 95% CIs: 1.09-2.84) within the last six months. Reduced odds of having a recent HIV test was also significantly associated with being a migrant/new immigrant to Canada (AOR: 0.33, 95% CIs: 0.19-0.56) and having a language barrier to health care access (AOR: 0.26, 95% CIs: 0.09-0.73). Our results highlight successes of reaching SWs at high risk of HIV through drug and sexual pathways. To maximize the effectiveness of including HIV testing as part of comprehensive HIV prevention and care to SWs, increased mobile outreach and safer-environment interventions that facilitate access to voluntary, confidential and non-coercive HIV testing remain a critical priority, in addition to culturally safe services with language support.

Keywords: HIV test; HIV testing; Vancouver; interventions; prevention; sex workers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Seropositivity / diagnosis*
  • HIV Seropositivity / epidemiology
  • HIV Seropositivity / psychology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Work / psychology
  • Sex Work / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Workers / psychology*
  • Sex Workers / statistics & numerical data
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Environment
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Violence


  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic