News / Edmonton

HIV Tonight: New campaign targets recent rise in HIV in Edmonton

New infections in 2014 increased 50% over 2009.

Brook Biggin is a Community Education Facilitator with HIV Edmonton.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Brook Biggin is a Community Education Facilitator with HIV Edmonton.

While the human immunodeficiency virus is no longer a death sentence, recent increases of HIV in Edmonton are troubling, an advocacy group says.

According to Alberta Health, there were 104 new infections in Edmonton in 2014, about a 50 per cent increase over 2009.

In Alberta, a third of new cases occur among men who have sex with men.

“People say to us, HIV? Is that still a thing? And the answer is yes, it’s very much a thing,” said Laura Keegan, director of public engagement with HIV Edmonton.

“Young people are maybe not talking about HIV, maybe not having that conversation,” she said.

HIV Edmonton’s new campaign, HIV Tonight, is a frank new campaign trying to get HIV back on the radar for a new generation.

“Sometimes public health organizations just throw a campaign out there and it can seem a little sterile,” said Brook Biggin, HIV Edmonton’s community educator.

“But we’re at queer events, I’m part of that community, I think guys realize that there’s sincerity there,” he said.

The website includes information about HIV rates (illustrated by erect penises) testing and treatment. There’s even an option to ask Biggin, who’s HIV positive himself, questions about his experience.

“I'm always available to speak with anyone who's willing to engage in constructive dialogue about how to improve the health of our community,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the phone doesn't ring nearly enough,” he said.

Biggin is clear it’s not about stigmatizing the gay community, but says that each community needs a unique approach.

“We need to understand the diverse sexual health needs of men who have sex with men and respond with tailored options that work for them,” he said.

Men in Edmonton don’t have sufficient access to HIV testing, he said. Drugs that reduce transmission risk or reduce viral loads also have a role to play.

“If condoms alone could have stopped the AIDS crisis they would have by now.”

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