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Testing program takes to the bars

Sexual Health Centre offers vaccines, tests, info

ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVE. Jacques Neron and a team from the Sexual Health Centre are bringing their services to you in the bars. Credit: (Shawn Scallen)

Look for them in the bars. They’re there to help. In an effort to reach gay men who may be at risk, the city’s Sexual Health Centre has recently begun to step up the frequency with which its Bar Outreach Program can be found out on the town.

According to the Sexual Health Centre’s Jacques Neron, members of the centre’s Healthy Sexuality And Risk Reduction Program have been camping out for an evening in area gay bars, offering free Hepatitis A, B and flu vaccinations.

“We have been doing bar outreach occasionally for a number of years, but we are now looking at having a more regular presence in the Ottawa gay bars,” says Neron. “This is also being done in other cities.”

Ontario’s Ministry Of Health And Long-Term Care has been providing publicly-funded Hepatitis A vaccine to men who have sex with other men since September, 2003.

In addition to promoting awareness and access to the free vaccinations, Neron says the bar clinics also serve to promote Sexual Health Centre services, as well as allowing clients to ask questions regarding safer sex, HIV, STIs, testing and vaccinations.

“We are looking at having the outreach to gay bars offered at least twice a year, spring and fall, and also on special occasions,” says Neron. “We work with the bar owners and staff. They are really receptive and it’s been a great experience.” The centre’s team also made a big splash at Capital Xtra’s LGX business-consumer fair this past spring.

Neron says client response has also been very positive and residents who have taken advantage of the clinics have requested a variety of other services.

With Ottawa’s gay community currently experiencing a rise in cases of oral and genital gonorrhea, the next phase of the outreach program will be to raise awareness and offer testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia.

A simple urine sample or throat swab are all that’s required for testing for gonorrhea. And those who test positive for the infection can be safely treated with antibiotics, says Neron.