British Columbia

HIV rates in vulnerable men to be studied with $6.5M grant

A SFU researcher is receiving a $6.5 million grant for his study on HIV rates among men who have sex with men.

HIV rates among men who have sex with men remain persistent says researcher

Pills falling from a bottle.
According to Dr. Brian Chittock, those on antiretroviral HIV treatment do not transfer the infection to their sexual partners. "It's a much more manageable disease for most people today," he says. (Getty Images)

A SFU researcher is receiving a $6.5 million grant for his study on HIV rates among men who have sex with men. 

Robert Hogg says HIV rates in that vulnerable population have remained the same while other groups in the province have seen a marked decrease in infections. 

"Among men, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, [HIV rates] have essentially remained stable for the last few years," he said.

HIV infection rates have gone down dramatically in B.C. since the height of the HIV epidemic in the mid 1990s. According to Hogg, a senior investigator at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the annual infection rate two decades ago was in the 700 to 800 range and now that number has dropped to less than 300 in recent years. 

Hogg says certain population groups like intravenous drug users have seen a marked drop in infections, but this has not happened among men who have sex with men (MSM).

He added that quality of life for people living with HIV has improved drastically, due to the antiretroviral therapy drugs that were invented in 1996. The therapy makes transmission between people less likely and allows people who are HIV-positive to live longer.

Population versus behavioural change

Robert Hogg says although HIV rates among vulnerable men in B.C. are not dropping, the overall HIV rate in the province has decreased dramatically. (Robert Hogg)

Hogg's study will test two possible reasons for the current HIV rate among MSM: population and behaviour.

He explains steady HIV rates among MSM may be due to population growth and refers to Pride celebrations in the mid 1990s to emphasize the growing community.

"It certainly was a different kind of celebration because there were fewer gay men," he said.

Hogg will also study behavioural changes over time.

"It could also be related to changes in sexual behaviour as well — so changes in sexual behaviour related to the onset of the use of the internet or just underlying changes in the community.

Higher rates in younger generation

Hogg says people should not be so quick to blame the younger generation for the persistent rate of HIV infections among men who have sex with men.

"If you look at changes through time, certainly young gay men are much smarter than their counterparts in the early 80s when the epidemic was first starting."

But he acknowledges that high HIV rates among vulnerable young men are a concern.

"It's very difficult to say exactly if it's young gay men alone, but certainly that is a concern and among that group, there are obviously higher rates."

To hear more, click on the audio labelled: SFU researcher given $6.5 million grant to study HIV rates in vulnerable population