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by Don Harrison
A condom may lick AIDS, but is the pocket-sized protector making gay men feel "bulletproof"?
An ongoing study, started in 1995, of 900 Lower Mainland homosexual and bisexual men has revealed some marked differences between its subjects and 700 gay men in a study done between 1982 and 1998.
Using 18- to 30-year-old participants from each group, the 235 men surveyed from '95 to '98 in the current work are four times less likely to become infected with HIV than the 263 men questioned from '85 to '88 in the earlier inquiry. The current group was also nine times less likely to report engaging in high-risk sex.
But the current study group did report a higher number of sexual partners and is more likely to engage in the higher-risk practice of anal sex than earlier subjects.
Is it because they feel bulletproof? "I would agree with you on that one," said Steve Martindale of the Vanguard Project. "But I would see [increased condom use] as a success. It shows that young people feel secure."
"As an epidemiologist, any infection occurring in a population is cause for concern." Said bio-statistical coordinator Kevin Craib.
"But the comparative analysis we've done shows that there's been a vast reduction in rates of HIV infection in the Vancouver gay communitywhich can largely be attributed to condom usage."
In the first inquiry, the Vancouver Lymphadenopathy [disease of the Lymph nodes]- AIDS Study, the participants were 10 to 20 times more likely to report that they never used condoms during anal sex with casual partners.
The gay and bisexual men from the current study, who submit blood samples and self-administered questionnaires on sexual behaviours and life experiences, were more likely to report they always use condoms in anal sex.
"I'm not sure about the increased risk behaviour," said Peter, a participant in the current study and outreach worker. " I think more people talk about it [sex] more. Talking about it is important" in prevention of risk.
Another current study member agrees that condom use doesn't necessarily promote risky sex.
" My generation has seen way too many people die," said Gary. "You go into a gay coffee shop and there's no one there between 45 and 60. They're all gone-and we know where they are. It's through their sacrifice that we live."
The studies, funded by Health Canada, are projects of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital, in co-operation with the University of BC.
HIV in BC
According to a recent study St. Paul's Hospital/University of BC study, the current one- to two-per-cent annual growth in HIV, if not reversed, will compound in to a 25-per-cent HIV rate in BC in 2020.
HIV rates peaked in North America in 1984 at 11.5 per cent. By 1995 (the latest figure available), the HIV rate for BC was down to one per cent. Ontario's latest figures revealed a 3.2-per-cent rate, while Montreal's is 1.3 per cent.
The only age category where BC's HIV rate is not declining
is for those under 25.
For more information, contact:
Vanguard Project Coordinator
608 - 1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6Z 1Y6