Canada: HIV-AIDS workers warn that rates of unprotected sex are rising among gay men

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HIV-AIDS workers in Winnipeg, Canada have warned that infection rates are on the rise because young gay men are having more unprotected sex, believing they are “invincible” against the deadly virus.

John Major, president of the advocacy group Gio’s Cares, told CBC News that around 10 per cent of the people the group deals with are not using condoms to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting the HIV virus.

Mr Major said a number of men aged 19-25 are turning down condoms believing they are not at risk.

He said: “A lot of the kids or younger adults now think they’re invincible and that they cannot get it. And if they do, there’s meds out there that will help them live forever.”

He added that some even go so far as to call contracting HIV “a gift” because they believe there is some prestige in having the virus.

Mr Major also said that other awareness groups have noticed a similar trend.

“Other organizations, there’s a van that travels around the track where there’s guys that work and girls that work, and they’re not taking the condoms anymore,” he said.

Gio’s Cares hands out safe sex kits at four gay bars and bathhouses in the city.

Mr Major said that two to three years ago, it was distributing about 2,300 of the kits every 30 days, but now they can only manage 1,500 a month.

Colin, a 21-year-old Winnipeg man, told CBC News that he does not use condoms and is not afraid of contracting HIV.

He said: “There are guys out there who figure, ‘It won’t happen to me. It can’t happen to me.’

“They think, ‘There aren’t enough people my age – the people that I’m sleeping with won’t have it because it’s all the older generation, right?'”

Last October, Winnipeg’s Nine Circles Community Health Centre (NCCHC) released data showing the rate of HIV-AIDS infections in Manitoba rose by 25 per cent between 2007 and 2008. Totals for 2009 were also expected to climb.

From 1985 to 2007, the total number of diagnosed HIV cases in Manitoba was 1,477.

Of the 82 new HIV cases in 2007, 55 were male and 27 female.

Earlier this month, the UK Department of Health said it had no plans to extend the HPV vaccine to young gay men.

Daisy Ellis, head of parliamentary & public affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), said: “We are extremely disappointed at the Department of Health’s response on this issue, which has missed the point entirely. This is not about achieving universal vaccination amongst girls, but protecting gay and bisexual men from a growing health issue.

“Currently, gay men are 15 times more likely to develop the types of cancer related to HPV than straight men are, and this rate will continue to rise while vaccinations are restricted to girls. This is a health inequality, plain and simple. We’re not aware of any other area of health policy where a group is being so clearly excluded.”