NEGATIVE or not, all gay men should consider taking antiretroviral medications according to the latest advice from the United Nation’s World Health Organisation (WHO).

Australian experts have backed the call for greater access to the medications, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, saying they are vital in bringing HIV infection rates down.

Australia has a target of cutting sexual transmission of HIV in half by 2015 and zero by 2020.

The WHO issued the guidelines last week, saying: “For the first time, WHO strongly recommends men who have sex with men consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection …alongside the use of condoms.

“Rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men remain high almost everywhere and new prevention options are urgently needed.”

The organisation estimates that widespread PrEP use could reduce the risk of HIV transmission in people who take part in risky behaviours by up to 92 per cent and could decrease infection rates in gay men by 25 per cent averting one million new diagnoses.

PrEP usually combines two antiretroviral drugs in one pill taken once a day. However, the treatment is much less effective at preventing HIV if not taken consistently.

PrEP is currently only available in Australia through clinical trials with the government’s National HIV Strategy, launched last week, saying: “[PrEP’s] place in the prevention response needs to be determined.”

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive director Rob Lake told the Star Observer they supported increasing the availability of PrEP “as a significant and proven prevention option.”

“Making this medication available is critical if Australia is to reach the bold target of zero new HIV infections by 2020, as outlined by the Health Minister last week,” he said.

However, Lake said gay men should be able to choose which prevention method worked best for them: “Fundamentally, preventing HIV means using the best tools available in the right context.”






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