People who are vulnerable to HIV know about prevention pill, but use remains low

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  • A new study found that there is a low uptake of the HIV prevention pill in MSM and trans women
  • MSM and trans women have a higher chance of contracting HIV compared to their peers
  • Experts recommend that healthcare workers provide PrEP education to people who may need it

Men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women are aware of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the daily pill that HIV-negative people can take to prevent HIV infection. According to a study published in AIDS and Behavior, few are currently taking it.

Surveying vulnerable population

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, the risk of contracting HIV in men who have sex with men was 22 times higher in 2018 than among adult men as a group. A

nd transgender women have a 12 times higher risk of acquiring HIV than adults aged between 15 and 49 years.

The researchers surveyed 202 MSM and transgender women to find out about their healthcare experiences and beliefs about HIV and PrEP and why uptake of the HIV prevention pill was low in these HIV-vulnerable communities.

Reasons why uptake of PrEP is low

The survey results show that 98% of the participants knew about PrEP, but only 23.2% reported currently taking the HIV prevention pill.

The study found that participants were more likely to be taking PrEP if they received PrEP information from a healthcare provider and endorsed STI-related risk compensation. 

The results also show that PrEP uptake was lower among people with concerns about medication use and adherence.

"It was surprising that so few participants were using PrEP, but we were happy to see that there were no racial or ethnic disparities in who was using it.

"I think the study results point to the effectiveness of local efforts to increase the use of PrEP for those who need it most," says study co-author Caleb LoSchiavo.

The study authors recommend that to encourage uptake, healthcare practitioners should provide education and screening for all patients who may need PrEP.

They also add that public health messaging should reframe  HIV "risk" and focus on the benefits of STI testing and emphasise the importance of preventive healthcare for key populations.

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