World Health Organization: HIV prevention urgently needed for MSM and transgender people

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the global fight against HIV risks stalling without stronger preventative treatments for transgender people and gay and bisexual men.

As well as offering medical advice, WHO has recommended that countries “remove the legal and social barriers that prevent many people from accessing services”. In countries which do not prevent discrimination against groups such as transgender people and gay men, seeking healthcare often carries severe risks which render treatment inaccessible.

The message comes as WHO issues new “guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations”, ahead of an International AIDS Conference to be held in Australia later this month.

In a press release, WHO noted that transgender women are at particularly high risk, being “almost 50 times more likely to have HIV than other adults”. Men who have sex with men (MSM) are “19 times more likely to have HIV than the general population”.

Other key risk groups are sex workers, people in prison, and people who inject drugs.

Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Direction of the HIV Department at WHO, said: “Failure to provide services to the people who are at greatest risk of HIV jeopardizes further progress against the global epidemic and threatens the health and wellbeing of individuals, their families and the broader community.”

The announcement marks the first time that WHO has strongly recommended pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for MSM “as an additional method of preventing HIV infection”, to be used in conjunction with condoms.

“Modelling estimates that, globally, 20-25% reductions in HIV incidence among men who have sex with men could be achieved through pre-exposure prophylaxis, averting up to 1 million new infections among this group over 10 years,” WHO states.

PrEP is a preventative treatment for people who are HIV-negative, but at high risk of contracting the infection. The treatment involves taking one anti-retroviral pill daily and, if used consistently, has been shown to reduce the risk of infection by up to 92%.

Guidelances released at last year’s International AIDS Conference recommended that antiretroviral treatment should be offered to HIV-positive patients at an earlier stage in the progression of the infection.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) extended its own recommendations on the preventative usage of the PrEP drug Truvada to new groups.

Results of another study released this week showed that the use of Truvada as PrEP also lowers inflectional rates of genital herpes by 30%.

In the UK, the drug is currently still in its experimental trial period, but some campaigners are already calling for it to be made available on the NHS.