A Sydney genetic testing company has apologised for the way it advertised HIV immunity tests on a gay internet chat site, amid claims the material could have sent the wrong message to gay men.
The apology came after peak HIV/AIDS organisations issued an urgent warning on Friday for gay men to be sceptical of the ads. In response Gaydar.com.au removed the ads from its website.
The advert, which appeared on Gaydar.com.au for one week, read, Are you immune to HIV?
The ad was for a test that could show whether an individual carried a particular genetic polymorphism -“ a naturally occurring variation in two or more genes -“ called delta-32 deletion, which studies had shown could prevent HIV from entering CCR5 cells. HIV predominantly used CCR5 cells to infect the body.
In a statement to Sydney Star Observer the company behind the ads, Delta32 Gene Testing Labs, said it had apologised to The National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) for any offence that may have occurred as a result of our marketing language in the ad campaign.
We have subsequently reviewed and changed our use of language in all marketing materials. That particular ad campaign has been withdrawn.
We also clarified that we are concerned that we do not dilute the safe-sex message and are happy to work with them on this issue. This remains a priority for us.
Delta32 Gene Testing Labs was one of a number of companies offering this specific gene test globally, the statement said, and it had initiated the test due to requests from consumers.
One in five of their customers had tested positive to having two copies of the gene, according to the company.
These are people that we would guess have been repeatedly exposed to HIV and are very curious to understand the basis for their status, the statement said.
We take the view that our customers are intelligent and have a variety of motives for wanting the information. I don’t think it is anyone’s right to say to people, -˜Don’t you worry about that, you don’t need to know what genes you have.’
In a joint statement NAPWA and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) said such testing had not been subject to robust clinical trials to determine its validity.
The variant gene only occurred in less than two to three percent of the Caucasian population, NAPWA’s Bill Whittaker said. And there was evidence people with the variant gene could still contract HIV.
These advertisements send a confusing and dangerous message, Whittaker said.
While it’s true that people with this deletion have some level of resistance to infection with most strains of HIV, it is extremely uncommon.
Results from the test should not be relied upon as an excuse to abandon safe sex, Whittaker warned.
There is not enough evidence to say that, in all cases, people with this deletion are protected from HIV or its consequences. There may also be other factors involved.
For the vast majority of people this test can only tell them what they should already know -“ that they risk HIV infection if they have unsafe sex.