The HIV prevention message across the globe has been boosted from an unlikely quarter just days before the world stops for World AIDS Day.

Surprising many, Pope Benedict XVI has softened the Vatican’s hardline stance on condom use, saying when it comes to HIV prevention, condom use may be acceptable.

In other promising news, results from the international iPreEx study have found the antiretroviral drug Truvada can reduce the likelihood of HIV infection by 44 percent among men who have sex with men.

Despite the good news, Australia is taking a cautious approach to the study.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive officer Don Baxter told the Star Observer the results were encouraging, but far from a silver bullet for change in HIV prevention methods.

“While we welcome the proof of concept that something like this could work, we do have to be very careful about moving from having some results to a public health program and putting it into practice,” Baxter said.

“Unfortunately, the 44 percent overall rate of prevention of transmission is really way below consistent condom use, so we do think it would only really ever compliment condom use, not replace it.”

Baxter said more time was needed to look into the study’s findings, however the early promise that sero-discordant couples may find Truvada beneficial was encouraging.

“We would still be advocating that men in sero-discordant couples or partnerships continue to use condoms, but for added assurance they could also consider Truvada as another layer of protection in case the condom does break,” he said.

“If you’re not infected and have access to using condoms, I think any individual would need to consider, ‘Should I need to do this?’”

It’s thought use of the drug would cost around $5000 per year and long-term side effects are yet to be fully explored.

Recent data shows HIV infections have increased by almost five percent nationally since 2008.

Baxter said the introduction of HIV rapid testing was now a priority for Australia.

“We need to transform the way we do HIV testing, which is on a slow but steady decline among gay men, and certainly the frequency of HIV testing is going down and we really need to catch up,” he said.

“We’ve actually fallen well behind the rest of the world, including many countries in the global south, so that’s a major area of priority area for next year.”

Victorian AIDS Council executive director Mike Kennedy said ageing was also a key issue for the HIV community.

“We’re getting results in greater number from Eurpoe and America, but also from clinicians here, that for some people with HIV, who’ve had HIV for a long time, we’re now seeing co-morbidities around cardiac disease, diabetes, neurological conditions,” he said.

“There’s a whole range of co-morbidities that they’re seeing in people, they wouldn’t expect to see in people without HIV for another 20 years.

“So the question becomes, how do you modify your services to deal with that emerging picture? But also I think, equally importantly from a prevention point of view, what are the kinds of things you could do that can prevent those things from happening?”

info: World AIDS Day is December 1.
Visit www.worldaidsday.org.au for more information.

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