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Barriers to gender-equitable HIV testing: going beyond routine screening for pregnant women in Nova Scotia, Canada

Jacqueline C Gahagan1*, Janice L Fuller1, E Michelle Proctor-Simms2, Todd F Hatchette3 and Larry N Baxter2

Author Affiliations

1 Gender and Health Promotion Studies Unit, School of Health and Human Performance, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

2 Nova Scotia Advisory Commission on AIDS, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

3 Queen Elizabeth II Health Science Centre, Division of Microbiology, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2011, 10:18  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-10-18

Published: 11 May 2011



Women and men face different gender-based health inequities in relation to HIV, including HIV testing as well as different challenges in accessing HIV care, treatment and support programs and services when testing HIV-positive. In this article, we discuss the findings of a mixed methods study exploring the various individual and structural barriers and facilitators to HIV counselling and testing experienced among a sample of adult women and men living in Nova Scotia, Canada.


Drawing from testing demographics, qualitative interview data and a review of existing testing policies and research, this paper focuses on understanding the gendered health inequities and their implications for HIV testing rates and behaviours in Nova Scotia.


The findings of this research serve as the basis to further our understanding of gender as a key determinant of health in relation to HIV testing. Recognizing gender as a key determinant of health in terms of both vulnerability to HIV and access to testing, this paper explores how gender intersects with health equity issues such as access to HIV testing, stigma and discrimination, and sexual behaviours and relationships.


Drawing on the current gender and HIV literatures, in conjunction with our data, we argue that an enhanced, gender-based, context-dependent approach to HIV counselling and testing service provision is required in order to address the health equity needs of diverse groups of women and men living in various settings. Further, we argue that enhanced HIV testing efforts must be inclusive of both men and women, addressing uniquely gendered barriers to accessing HIV counselling and testing services and in the process moving beyond routine HIV testing for pregnant women.