Rates of HIV in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto are particularly high among gay and bisexual men in those cities compared to the rest of Canada.
A new study of over 2,400 men across Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto hopes to shed some light on why HIV rates are so high among gay and bisexual men in those cities compared to the rest of Canada.
Over the next four years researchers will do HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing, as well as distribute qualitative questionnaires in what they’re calling “Engage.”
They want get at attitudes towards the disease and access to healthcare in the face of massive changes in the treatment and prevention of HIV over the past three decades, said Trevor Hart, one of the lead researchers and a clinical psychologist.
“We want to have our finger on the pulse of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men across these three big cities which really foretells what will be occurring in the rest of the community across the country,” he said.
“This is going to be one of the largest studies of its kind, examining how a lot of the changes that have taken place around HIV are affecting both sexual behaviour and mental and physical health and wellbeing.”
To find those who’ve been underrepresented in other studies, like trans men and people of colour, researchers will get men to recruit others in their social networks, from Grindr to volleyball leagues.
Most of the members of the research team are gay and bisexual men themselves, Hart noted, and the goal is to both inform future heath policy and include the community in future discussions, instead of treating them like “guinea pigs.”
While some may move to big cities like Toronto and Vancouver to get better HIV care, Hart said it is “concerning” that rates are still so high among gay and bisexual men in urban centres.
Cameron Dunkin, manger of research at the Canadian Foundation For AIDS Research (CANFAR), one of the funders of the study, said there is sometimes a “sense of lackadaisicalness” about the virus.
“You do have some apathy sometimes where people just aren’t as afraid of HIV because there’s medication and the assumption that they’ll be fine and it doesn’t really matter if they contract it,” he said.
But despite all the advances, science still hasn’t gotten rid of the fear and shame that can surround the disease, said Ryan Lisk, director of community health programs at the AIDS Committee Of Toronto.
That can mean some people don’t get tested at all, and put others at risk because they aren’t on treatment. Others test positive, but might have trouble getting medical care.
“Our concern is often about how people can fall between the cracks,” said Lisk.
“Stigma still is the number one issue.”
Author: May Warren