Men may make up the largest group of new HIV infections in Canada, but recent findings point to new demographics whose infection rates are on the rise: Youth and women.
Thirty per cent of females diagnosed with HIV are between the ages of 15-19, up 16 per cent from 1996, says a report by the Public Health Agency in Canada.
Since 1985, youth between the ages of 15-29 have accounted for 26.5 per cent of new HIV cases.
These numbers prompted the Canadian AIDS Society to launch a month-long awareness campaign, called Get Out And Do Something, which targets youth.
“It was designed for youth because we are seeing a complacency,” said Monique Doolittle-Ramas, executive director of the Canadian AIDS Society.
“(Many youth) actually thought the (AIDS) treatment was a cure.”
She said part of the problem is that the issue isn’t in their face.
“You can’t look at somebody and say, ‘This person has HIV.’ (But) it’s in every community, every neighbourhood.”
Doolittle-Ramas said many people don’t realize that women represented 26 per cent of positive HIV tests in 2008.
Despite that, young girls are often schooled to use condoms to prevent pregnancy and STIs but not necessarily HIV.
“We need to be comfortable having that discussion and I’m not sure we are,” she said.
Andre Ceranto, a co-ordinator at AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), said some women are contracting the illness from their monogamous partners.
“Asking serious questions such as ‘Have you been tested for HIV?’ remains a taboo subject even in relationships,” he said.
Dr. Evan Wood, co-director of the Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, says Canada’s drug laws are fuelling an increase of HIV transmission among young women.
“(Jail) ... drives vulnerable groups to the margins of society, where HIV is more likely to spread,” he said.
Doolittle-Ramas said she doesn’t think Canadians realize that 65,000 people in this country are living with HIV-AIDS.
“It’s a discussion we have to have,” she said. “Unfortunately it does not lead in media stories any longer, so we have a big job to get the information out.”