Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men continue to make up about half of new HIV diagnoses each year, despite being fewer than 5 per cent of all adult men.
A trend that shows little sign of improvement, say researchers.
“Nationally, the number of new diagnoses amongst [men who have sex with men] has remained largely unchanged over the last 10 years,” said Dr. David Moore from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
“HIV remains a fundamental threat to the health of these men, and results in significant costs to the Canadian health care system.”
Relieving that burden is, in part, one of the exploratory questions the Canadian government is asking in their study of LGBTQ2 health. Through the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA), Members of Parliament continue to learn about the persistent and emerging challenges to the community’s health and wellbeing.
Top among them? HIV and sexual health.
At least that was the focus of the April 11 HESA hearing in the nation’s capital, where Dr. Moore joined other experts to suggest what the government could do to significantly impact rates of new diagnoses of HIV and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, or STBBIs.
One of their suggestions for the government was to invest in ways to expand testing.
“We need a greater range of testing approaches in Canada that make the best use of new and effective test technologies and that empower gender and sexual minority people to get tested,” said Dr. Mark Gilbert, Medical Director of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control.
This could include a range of new methods for STBBI test delivery and specimen collection, including the self-collection of swabs and blood samples which a person could collect themselves and send to a lab for testing. That would require an update to Canada Post regulations, but similar programs exist in many other countries explained Dr. Gilbert. Another option is take-home, rapid HIV self-testing kits, which also currently aren’t licensed in Canada but are used in several other countries, including the United States.
Whatever the method, the goal is to get more men tested — especially those who may avoid going to a health clinic for fear of being judged or have their sexuality outed.
Gerry Croteau, Executive Director of the Gilbert Centre for Social and Support Services, said at the hearing that culturally incompetent health services further prevent men from learning about things like PrEP, getting tested or accessing tools for safe sex.
This theme of information sharing is becoming increasingly important, argued the hearing’s witnesses, as sex education remains a target of conservative governments in provinces like Ontario and Alberta.
“The research has been quite clear that comprehensive sexual education that talks about all the nuances of gender identity and other aspects of sex and mental health is a benefit to youth who gender minorities and heterosexual youth,” continued Dr. Gilbert.
Beyond young people, health services also need to work better for gay and bisexual men who are further marginalized due to their ethnicity or religion, said Gary Lacasse, Executive Director of the Canadian AIDS Society and witness at the hearing.
“The health care system is broken, and until we recognize that we will not be able to move forward in a meaningful way that will positively influence the health outcomes of all Canadians, let alone those of the LGBTQ community,” he said.
To learn more about the study, HESA or the ongoing hearings, check our dedicated page.
To hear the testimony of all presenters at this meeting (No. 139 HESA - Standing Committee on Health), review the evidence or read the minutes, visit the links below to the HESA webpage:
BC Centre for Disease Control
• Dr. Mark Gilbert, Medical Director, Clinical Prevention Services
British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
• Dr. David Moore, Research Scientist, Epidemiology and Population Health Program
Canadian AIDS Society
• Gary Lacasse, Executive Director
Gilbert Centre for Social and Support Services
• Gerry Croteau, Executive Director