The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is calling for the wider availability of a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug and that it be accessible for free, said Johan Meyers, health manager at LGBT NGO OUT-WellBeing.
“PrEP is only available on prescription and it is quite expensive as well,” Meyers said. This comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that, in addition to using condoms, gay men should take antiretroviral pills even if they are not infected as an additional method of preventing HIV, because they were at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
Marcus Low, of the Treatment Action Campaign, said men who have sex with men (MSM) should be offered PrEP through the public healthcare system. There’s strong evidence that this reduces a man’s chances of contracting HIV. PrEP should be accompanied by counselling about the risks of contracting HIV and the provision of condoms.
“Given that the cost of the specific ARVs used for PrEP is relatively low, and the potential of this intervention to prevent new infections is high, we see no reason why it should not be offered in the public sector,” Low said.
HIV-Aids experts estimate that globally, HIV relative incidence among gay men could be cut by 20-25% through PrEP, which could help avoid up to 1 million new infections in this group over 10 years. PrEP, when taken consistently, has also been shown to cut the risk of HIV infection in high-risk people by up to 92%.
“The reason we are adding this to our prevention choices with MSM is that we have these very worrying increases in HIV incidence,” said Rachel Baggaley, coordinator of the WHO’s department for HIV-Aids.
Meyers added that the gay community might feel that the recommendation by WHO is creating the impression once again that mostly gay people and MSM are being infected because they are promiscuous.
According to LGBT communities, vulnerable populations are more likely not to have access to healthcare services, because of discrimination and because being gay is criminal in 77 countries – of which 38 are African.
“People do not, unfortunately, always use condoms and this applies to both gay and straight people. It only takes one incident to be infected, and it can happen to anyone. One does not need to be promiscuous,” Meyers said.
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