OUT, the Pretoria-based LGBT health and well-being organisation, has offered more clarity on a recent international recommendation that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) take preventive HIV medication.
In July, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that these men should take daily ongoing preventive antiretroviral medication as an additional method of preventing HIV infection.
Known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the medication, if taken daily as prescribed, has been proven to dramatically reduce the risk of HIV infection (by up to 92%).
WHO estimated, globally, that use of PrEP could reduce HIV incidence among MSM by 20-25%, averting up to one million new infections among this group over 10 years.
“We welcome this recommendation,” said OUT’s Director Dawie Nel. “We further urge the South African government to follow suit and to provide this medication to members of this higher risk group, when appropriate, through the public health sector.”
PrEP is not currently offered in public hospitals and clinics in South Africa, although MSM who can afford to pay for it may request a prescription from a private doctor. The use of PrEP will require regular HIV tests and monitoring.
“The reality, however, is that even private general practitioners may not be aware of PrEP and its appropriate use, highlighting the need for further mainstream education on the subject,” said Nel.
He further clarified that WHO’s somewhat controversial recommendation is not a blanket one for all gay men or MSM, as not all these men engage in risky sex.
“For example, PrEP may not be the right option for HIV negative MSM who are in monogamous relationships, those who don’t have anal sex or those who consistently and correctly use condoms,” explained Nel.
“PrEP, however, is definitely recommended for MSM who do not use condoms consistently and / or have many sexual partners and those in relationships in which one of the partners is HIV positive and the other negative,” he added.