Terrence Higgins Trust: HIV prevention work in London needs to focus more on the link between drugs and sex

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Commenting on today’s HIV research in The Lancet, sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust has urged “for a greater focus” in London when it comes to helping gay men who are encountering difficulties with drugs and safer sex.

A study released on Thursday showed a sharp rise in the number of gay and bisexual men testing positive for HIV in the capital.

1,720 new HIV infections were recorded in 2012, an increase of 21% compared to in 2011.

Lisa Power, policy director for Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), said: “Partly these numbers represent greater testing amongst gay men most at risk, which is a positive thing. But there is a need for a greater focus within London HIV prevention work on helping gay men who are encountering difficulties with drugs and safer sex and also on encouraging others to avoid these problems and resist peer pressure.

“Doing more relies on investment by London’s local authorities. While there are some face-to-face services funded, there is currently no London funding for online or printed materials to inform gay men of the dangers they face and counter the emerging community norms of using drugs for sex.

“We know that HIV prevention measures can work. Only by investing in promoting testing, encouraging condom use, and supporting those who are at high risk, will we start to see the numbers fall again.”

Earlier, Valerie Delpech, head of HIV surveillance at the Department of Health, said to The Lancet: “There is anecdotal evidence from drug and alcohol clinics in London that recreational or club drug use amongst gay men is a growing issue, which warrants further investigation.”

Speaking to The Lancet as part of its research, David Stuart from Antidote, a London charity helping gay and bisexual men with drug dependency issues, said: “Some gay men are preferring to have sex without condoms for a variety of complicated reasons associated with a changing HIV health situation and using drugs to manage a complex relationship to sex, intimacy, and gay identity.

“Mix this with an alarming increase in injecting use and a reluctance to access traditional drug services, and the potential for a costly and culturally harmful epidemic of HIV and HCV and drug use is enormous.”