Both relationship-specific and structural factors influence whether coupled gay men living in New York City choose to use pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP/PEP) for HIV prevention. Some men – particularly those in monogamous relationships – felt that discussing PrEP and PEP in the context of a relationship could threaten the relationship by raising issues of trust, while others felt that it had the potential to enhance sexual health and satisfaction.
Stigma from the gay community and healthcare providers around promiscuity also presented barriers to PrEP uptake. This qualitative research was conducted by Stephen Bosco, Dr Tyrel Starks and colleagues at City University New York and published in the Journal of Homosexuality.
Gay and bisexual men accounted for 66% of all new HIV diagnoses in the US in 2017. It is estimated that 35-68% of these infections happen within the context of a long-term relationship. This indicates that coupled gay men have the potential to benefit significantly from biomedical prevention strategies, such as PrEP (taken on an ongoing basis) and PEP (taken shortly after a suspected infection). However, only 7% of the potential 1.1 million gay and bisexual men who could benefit from PrEP were prescribed it in 2016. Black and minority men in the US remain most at-risk for HIV infection, while also having the lowest rates of PrEP uptake.
Extensive evidence from HIV prevention research studies has firmly established that “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable,” or U=U. This means that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load — the amount of virus in their blood — by taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prescribed do not sexually transmit HIV to others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates this strategy is 100% effective against the sexual transmission of HIV.
Now, a new study of nearly 112,000 men who have sex with men in the United States has found increasing acceptance of the U=U message in this population. Overall, 54% of HIV-negative participants and 84% of participants with HIV correctly identified U=U as accurate. The study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. Study results were published online in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.
“U=U has been validated repeatedly by numerous studies as a safe and effective means of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID Director. “The increased understanding and acceptance of U=U is encouraging because HIV treatment as prevention is a foundation of efforts to end the epidemic in the United States and around the world. This public health message has the power to reduce stigma, protect the health of people living with HIV and prevent sexual transmission of HIV to others.”
The National Institutes of Health has awarded approximately $11.3 million to 23 institutions across the United States to collaborate with community partners to develop locally relevant plans for diagnosing, treating and preventing HIV in areas with high rates of new HIV cases.
The awards will help enhance the implementation science knowledge base needed for the proposed Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America. The plan aims to leverage the powerful data and tools now available to reduce new HIV diagnoses in the United States by 75 percent in five years and by 90 percent by 2030. President Donald J. Trump announced this bold new initiative during the State of the Union Address in February. If funds are appropriated by Congress, the 10-year initiative will begin in fiscal year 2020. The awards announced today are one-year awards to support pilot and formative studies to prepare for more extensive implementation science research proposals expected in 2020.
“With existing, powerful HIV treatment and prevention tools, we can end the epidemic in the United States,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH. “The new initiative is a practical, achievable implementation plan. By working directly with health departments and other community organizations, researchers can find the best ways to use the highly effective methods at our disposal to diagnose, prevent and treat HIV in the United States.”