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Straight Men Outnumber Gay Men in New HIV Cases in Western Australia

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For the first time since the HIV crisis hit Australia in the 1980s, more men in the state of Western Australia who identify as straight were diagnosed with HIV than gay men.

In response, the government has launched the "Going Somewhere?" campaign that targets and seeks to educate newly at-risk men.

“Going Somewhere? is aimed at heterosexual men who travel to southeast Asia and who may not be aware of the risk of acquiring and spreading HIV, and other STIs, while on holiday,” explained Roger Cook, the Western Australia (WA) Health Minister, in a recent statement. “It reminds men to take precautions, use condoms and visit a GP or sexual health clinic for a check-up when they get home.”

The 12-month period from October 2018 to September 2019 saw 26 new cases of HIV among men who identify as straight. That represents a 21 percent increase over the previous five-year average. In comparison, there was a 51 percent decrease over that same time period among men who have sex with men.

The government largely attributes the rising numbers to straight men having condomless sex while on vacation in Southeast Asia.

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Western Australia is the largest state in the country at nearly one million square miles, but it is sparsely populated with just over 2.6 million residents. Nearly 80 percent of the population live in the greater Perth area in the southwest corner. The state is surprisingly diverse with over 40 percent of its residents born outside Australia.

The "Going Somewhere?" program seeks not only to spread the word about safe sex practices but also introduce pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) to their target audience. When taken daily, PrEP makes it virtually impossible to contract HIV.

Using online bursts as well as print and billboard exposure, the key message of the program is that STIs and HIV are commonplace overseas. Caution and preparation are key. "Going Somewhere?" recommends travelers to consult with their doctors both before and after their visit.

Tags: Stigma, PrEP

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