Montreal health professionals called for a renewed focus on HIV/AIDS and its spread Saturday, on the 24th anniversary of World AIDS day.

According to one of Montreal's leading AIDS doctors, there is an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases in the city.

Some 20,000 people are living with HIV in Quebec, but about 20 per cent of those aren’t aware they’ve contracted the disease.

Every year in Montreal, about 600 people contract HIV.

Those who don't know they are infected may continue to have unprotected sex.

“We need to find the 20 per cent people of who are infected and they do not know. They are not followed by medical care,” said HIV/AIDS researcher Jean-Pierre Routy.

One of the tricky issues is that in early stages of HIV-infection, test results can often come back falsely negative.

Montreal HIV experts say in recent years, many young people have stopped using condoms.

We're talking less about AIDS, because it's less a dying disease. There's no sexual education in schools. All this is favourable to an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease, said HIV/AIDS expert Dr. Rejean Thomas.

Last year, almost a third of new cases one Montreal test centre L’Actuel sur rue were in people under the age of 30.

“To tell to a young man or young woman at 20 years old, ‘You're HIV positive,’ it's still bad news. We have a good treatment, (but) it's still very bad news,” said Thomas.

A new international study on HIV is looking at a drug people can take before and after sex to prevent the disease from spreading.

Montreal researchers are now recruiting people to be part of the study

“The idea is to have enough drugs in your blood at the time the virus is trying to infect your body and if there are enough drugs, then the virus cannot infect the person,” explainedJean-Michel Molina.

With all these advancements in AIDS research, fundraising for the cause has gotten harder.

Carolyn Farha of AIDS charity the Farha Foundation said it might be because many don't think of it as a problem anymore.

“People feel you just pop a few pills and having AIDS isn't a big deal anymore, which obviously isn't the case,” she said. “Medication is first of all very expensive, very toxic on the body, very difficult and it is for life, because there is no cure.”

Though there’s no cure for the moment, medical experts say it is preventable through education.