New research from the University of NSW highlights the need for gay and bisexual men in NSW to have greater access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) according to ACON.
PrEP is the use of HIV medication to keep HIV negative people from contracting HIV. PrEP is not currently approved for use in Australia, although some men involved in local research projects are taking the drug. Also, a limited number of people have been accessing PrEP through private prescriptions from their GPs and personal importation of PrEP drugs from overseas.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill says the latest findings from the 2015 Sydney Gay Community Periodic Survey – published by UNSW’s Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH) – underscores the HIV prevention benefits of making PrEP widely available to gay men. “To reach our goal of ending HIV transmission in NSW by 2020, we need to get gay and bisexual men to test more, treat early and stay safe,” Mr Parkhill says.
“The good news is that the survey results show that more gay men in Sydney are testing for HIV with those reporting a recent HIV test (in the previous 12 months) now at 75%. Also, 91% of HIV positive guys are now reporting that they’re on treatment, with 96% reporting an undetectable viral load which means it’s highly unlikely that they’ll pass on the virus.
“These figures also correlate with 2015 first quarter HIV data released this week by the NSW Ministry of Health, which shows that HIV testing rates in NSW have increased every year over the last four years both overall and among high risk populations, and that 90% of people with HIV attending public sexual health and HIV clinics are on treatment.
“However, the UNSW study also shows that the number of men having unprotected anal sex is gradually increasing, with 36% of respondents now reporting incidents of condomless anal intercourse with casual partners. While the bulk of gay men in NSW continue to always use condoms, there’s clearly a minority who don’t, and they’re the ones who would certainly benefit from access to PrEP, as we know that condomless anal intercourse remains the main transmission route for HIV among gay men.
“Giving our community access to PrEP is therefore vital for the success of our HIV prevention efforts in NSW and we’re currently working with all relevant stakeholders to fast track approval for the medication so it can be made widely available as soon as possible.”
The lead researcher on the study, Associate Professor Martin Holt, agrees. “As we see condomless anal intercourse with casual partners in this sample gradually increasing over time, it’s critical that we improve access to and education about additional preventative measures such as PrEP. PrEP is highly effective in preventing HIV, we know that men at high risk of HIV are interested in using it, and there is broad support in the gay community for greater access to it.”
The Sydney Gay Community Periodic Survey – conducted since 1996 – is run in partnership between CSRH, ACON, Positive Life NSW and other partners. Data is collected at gay venues and community events like Mardi Gras Fair Day. Over 2,800 gay and bisexual men participated in this year’s survey, which for the first time also included online recruitment. Both ACON and the research team at UNSW would like to thank the gay and bisexual men in Sydney who have participated in this study at venues and events across the city.