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Dr. Paul MacPherson examines health-care needs of gay men

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Dr. Paul MacPherson, a clinician and scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, was awarded the Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health for the Ontario HIV Treatment Network.

Paul MacPherson was doing his PhD in molecular biology at Berkeley, near San Francisco, during the early 1980s when obituaries of gay men who died of AIDS filled three newspaper pages.

“I said, okay, I’m a virologist and I’m gay, and people around me are dying. I decided to switch from research to medicine, and went to med school, hoping I could do something,” he said.

Dr. MacPherson came to The Ottawa Hospital to practise medicine and conduct research. His active practice focuses on infectious diseases, particularly the human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV. His research has now shifted from the laboratory, where he investigated how HIV disables the immune system, to examining the health-care needs of gay men.

Dr. MacPherson has learned that HIV transmission is not just about using a condom, but also about childhood trauma, isolation, and the depression that leads men to take risks during sex.

In 2016, the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) launched a strategy to focus on integrated health services for populations with HIV, and established five research chairs. Gay men make up 58 percent of the people living with HIV, so three of the chairs are devoted to gay men’s health. Because of Dr. MacPherson’s experience in treating gay men with HIV, he was a good candidate for OHTN’s medical Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health.

“Very few people are doing this research,” said Dr. MacPherson. “And so, honestly, I was one of the few who fit the bill for the position.”

He was awarded $500,000 from OHTN to investigate factors that threaten gay men’s health, such as homophobia, mental health issues, and addictions that may impact HIV risk-taking. When gay men do access the health-care system, they frequently encounter stigma, inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation on the part of health-care providers. As a result, many gay men perceive that the medical system won’t meet their needs, and so avoid it.

“One goal is to learn from gay men how they want their health care delivered. We’re stuck in our current model where the doctor is at the hospital or in their office and the patient must come to the doctor,” said Dr. MacPherson.

As a result, he is exploring alternative ways to deliver care, such as through the internet. Reaching patients through specifically designed medical websites might offer a better way to engage people in their own health care, particularly those in remote communities.

The Ottawa Hospital is also establishing a Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health to examine these men’s general health-care needs, whereas the OHTN research chair focuses primarily on HIV.

 
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Linda McCabe - March 31, 2017

This is excellent progress and I wish to congratulate Dr MacPherson for his deep caring of the gay men population he serves. It is refreshing to see a physician understand the impact of trauma and isolation on the immune system, and its effect on disease susceptibility and disability. I also applaud TOH for its forward thinking on the establishment of a TOH Research chair and hope that there will also be space to encompass the needs of the greater LGBTQA community.

The Ottawa Hospital - March 31, 2017

Hi Linda, Thank you for your comment and feedback. We are proud of Dr. MacPherson’s work as well!