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This article appeared in the Victoria News on April 16, 1997.
by Jenny Manzer
AIDS support workers in Victoria and Vancouver are worried a national strategy to fight the disease is dying out at a critical time.
At a time when BC's biggest city is showing unexpectedly high rates of infection, federal dollars for the battle against AIDS are fading away. HIV-infecting rates in Vancouver among young gay and bisexual men surpass San Francisco and New York, recent research of the Vanguard Project suggests.
In Victoria, an AIDS Vancouver Island study is researching men's attitudes about sex to help shape future AIDS prevention programs. Early findings show self-esteem as a factor in safe-sex practices - at the same time, an existing outreach program is running out of time and federal money. Steve Martindale, project coordinator of the Vancouver-based Vanguard project, says actual numbers connected to their latest findings on infection rates are not being released yet - they'll be revealed at an upcoming AIDS conference. But he suggests the high numbers may stem from the project's efforts to get a broad base of respondents to its survey - including street-involved youth.
To date, the Vanguard Project has surveyed over 500 Lower Mainland men aged 18-30. Results show over half their young respondents - men who have sex with men - had engaged in high-risk sexual practices during the previous year.
The Vanguard study, which began in 1995, shows that although unsafe sex is decreasing overall - some young men continue to put themselves in jeopardy. It also draws connections with risk-taking and other issues - such as being sexually abused in the past.
In Victoria, AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) is doing its own study. The MARS Study (Men's Attitudes about Relationships and Sexuality) is almost halfway complete, with researchers having completed about 60 out of 100 planned interviews.
Peter MacDougall, coordinator of education services at AVI, says initial findings suggest older gay or bisexual men may be more likely to engage in risky behavior, connected to coming out under more repressed circumstances. MacDougall notes the initial results make a connection between self-esteem and safer sex. Later this year, the MARS study and the Vanguard study will compare results.
However, at a time when studies continue to show people at risk, the federal government has yet to renew funding for the National AIDS Strategy. That means the Vanguard Study, initially given three years of start-up money, could wind down after March of next year. As well, AVI's Men's Outreach Program, which promotes healthy men's sexuality, may die out next year if no federal money comes through.
MacDougall calls it "a very strong irony" that studies funded by Health Canada show high infection rates, while the funding rug is pulled out from under research and education programs. The National AIDS Strategy funds a range of projects - from ground-breaking research to grassroots education projects. Phase II of the strategy allocated $40.7 million to AIDS education, research, and care and treatment. The funding program expires next March. MacDougall suggests the sunsetting of AIDS funding is tied into the population-health model - basically meaning if more Canadians are dying of heart disease, health dollars should be spent there.
But AIDS educators like MacDougall are concerned less cash for prevention programs and research may lead to an escalation of AIDS cases.
He notes that in other countries, such as in Asia and Africa - the virus is prevalent among heterosexuals. MacDougall hopes it doesn't take an outbreak of infections within the straight community for the message to hit home in Canada.
As part of a reminder to youth that the
risk of AIDS hasn't gone away, 10 Victoria bands and DJs staged
two concerts at club Vertigo over the weekend. The concerts, intended
to raise awareness amongst straight youth, highlighted that the
average age of HIV-infection in Canada has dropped to 23. Event
organizers hoped to raise $4,000 towards AVI's Emergency Assistance
Fund, which helps support people living with AIDS.
For more information, contact:
Vanguard Project Coordinator
608 - 1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6Z 1Y6