Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the term used to refer to HIV-negative people taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs on an ongoing basis to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. PrEP is an important new HIV prevention tool, and media interest in this new HIV prevention method remains high, both in Australia and internationally.
PrEP is a daily pill, is simple to take and has few side effects. The antiretroviral drug Truvada has been demonstrated to be effective at preventing HIV in clinical trials for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender women, and heterosexual men and women.
HIV transmission rates in Australia are continuing to rise despite public campaigns to raise awareness around safe sex and regular HIV testing. There are many reasons why condoms don’t work for everyone, and the correct use of condoms requires a degree of preparation. PrEP therefore provides an important additional HIV prevention tool for people at high risk of acquiring HIV.
Overseas, public debate about PrEP has at times been characterised by moral panics, with critics implying that it is not an appropriate public health strategy, labelling it as a ‘party drug’ that will displace condom use and lead to an increase in STIs.
However, data from PrEP trials overwhelmingly shows that PrEP dramatically reduces the risk of HIV acquisition among people who may already be reporting lower levels of condom use, demonstrating a clear need for this additional HIV prevention tool.
It should also be stressed that PrEP is recommended as part of a program that includes regular monitoring and check-ups by a GP, meaning that any STIs acquired by individuals taking PrEP can be diagnosed and treated early.
It is important to report on PrEP in a way that is objective and doesn’t stigmatise people for seeking to access an HIV prevention method which has been proven to be safe and effective.
Making Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) available to people at high risk of HIV infection AFAO Briefing Paper, September 2015