New health initiative brings discreet HIV testing to Ontario hair salons

Who: The African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO) and Public Inc.

What: “The Care Salon,” a new initiative aimed at providing discreet HIV/AIDS screening for black women at hair salons. It’s part of ACCHO’s Care Collective, an umbrella program developed by Public that promotes self-care by encouraging regular HIV screening.

“[It’s] rebranding HIV screening to be just a regular part of the care routine for black women,” says Public’s creative director, Jon Lane. “You’re going to get your hair done or your nails done anyway, so it’s just another thing to do while you’re there.”

When & Where: The event takes place on Feb. 7 to coincide with National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It currently includes just one salon, Crown N’ Glory Natural Hair Studio in Toronto, although more will be added, says Olga Mugyenyi, Public’s senior client strategy director.

Why: Because HIV is particularly prevalent among the African, Caribbean and black (ACB) segment of the  population. According to ACCHO, the ACB population accounts for 24% of individuals newly diagnosed with HIV, even though they make up just 4.7% of the province’s population. ACB women, meanwhile, accounted for 53% of women diagnosed with HIV in Ontario, a number that is expected to increase.

The goal remove some of the fear and stigma around testing, and increase participation on an ongoing basis. “It’s not just Feb. 7, 2020,” says Mugyenyi. “We want people to be doing this over and over again.”

How: ACCHO is promoting the initiative via its social channels and with some paid social. Brochures and signage inside the salons will guide women to a private room where registered health professionals will conduct the screening and provide counselling services.

Public is also working with unnamed influencers from the worlds of mental health, the arts and the media to raise awareness of the program. “They’re people that [participants] would feel comfortable listening to and would look forward to seeing on the seventh,” says Mugyenyi.

And we quote: “One of the key learnings that really led us to this execution was that women in this community were a lot more likely to get tested if they thought their friends or other women in the community were also doing it. It just made it less daunting,” says Lane. “The idea of seeking a doctor or clinic, or just the idea of having to ask for an HIV test, is a huge barrier.”

Chris Powell