This article was published on March 28th, 2017
A group of HIV prevention leaders from across Canada have launched the largest biological-behavioral study of queer, gay, bi, and trans men. The Engage Study, launched in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto, in February 2017, is a 5-year study aiming to create a clearer picture of the HIV epidemic among GBTQA men to educate the public of more effective HIV prevention.
The Engage Study goal is to help lawmakers understand access to treatment for prevention and of the disease for trans, bi, and gay men, can prevent the spread of HIV. This information will:
- Provide research evidence to inform HIV and sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI) prevention initiatives.
- Build capacity for a pan-Canadian network on HIV and sexual health research for GBM.
- Enhance community-researcher collaboration and knowledge exchange.
The Engage Study will continue the research obtained from the Momentum Health Study, which was launched in 2012 in Vancouver to raise awareness of Treatment as Prevention (TasP), measure access to HIV treatment, and changes in HIV at-risk behavior. More than 40 doctors, researchers, community members, and partners from gay, bi, and trans communities will participate in the Engage Study.
The Momentum Health Study found gay, bi, and trans men account for 57% of all new HIV infections in Canada. The study also found Treatment as Prevention is working: when an HIV positive person adheres to their daily regimen of anti-retroviral medicine and achieve an undetectable viral load, their health improves and their chances of passing on the virus becomes negligible. The Momentum study found that awareness of TasP is increasing for HIV negative men.
The Momentum Study also found that condom use among HIV negative gay, bi, and trans men is affected by several factors, including HIV treatment awareness and drug abuse. 56% of those polled used a condom in their last sexual encounter; however, when drugs like crystal meth were consumed, condoms were only used 20 percent of the time. Momentum found that mental health is an important factor for trans, bi, and gay men. Half of these men reported having some mental health disorder, as diagnosed by a doctor, which is in stark contrast compared to the one-third of Canadians who’ve reported a substance use or mental health issue.
Other goals of the Engage Study are to:
- Build a pan-Canadian information network on sexual health research,
- Provide enough research evidence to inform lawmakers of prevention initiatives for HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
- Enhance community visibility and knowledge with partners.
The Engage Study is using respondent-driven sampling (RDS), a polling approach that can potentially create a more accurate representation of the general queer male population. To be eligible to participate in the study, men will have to receive a recruitment voucher from a sex partner, friend, or hook up.
“HIV has long impacted gay, bi and other men who have sex with men and, despite advances in treatment and prevention, this population makes up more than half of new infections,” explained Dr. David Moore, Co-Principal Investigator on the Engage Study and BC-CFE Research Scientist. The Engage Study has the power to change and advance the cause of HIV prevention and elimination.