Decrease of a third in new HIV cases among men

Prevention techniques and medications are helping (Photographer: Nico Paix)

by Anna Dutton

Since 2015, new cases of HIV in gay men have dropped by a third. Despite this welcome decrease, a study has shown that these results could be because of sufferers buying medication over the internet against practitioner’s advice. The results, although preliminary, seem to be taking place across the UK with four London sexual health clinics reporting the same outcome, giving promise to those more susceptible to contracting the disease.

On Wednesday, there was an HepHIV conference in Malta held by Valerie Delpech, who works for public health England. She reinforced that the results appear to show a decrease in the number of new HIV cases among gay and bisexual men, but emphasises that the data is still ‘preliminary’ and for a clearer picture to surface, ‘all data for 2016’ would have to be collected first.

HIV infections are more common in gay men, and only until last year, just over half of the new infections were in this category. These results, if completely accurate, will have a profound effect on the spreading of HIV and help rupture any future epidemics.

One theory behind these results is that individuals are taking medication that will reduce their chances of contracting the disease. This is known as a pre-exposure prophylaxis or PreEP. However, because these drugs are not available on the NHS, and cost roughly £400 if bought privately, many gay men instead choose to buy versions on the internet from online or international pharmacies.

The NHS say this is dangerous because the medicines purchased could have the ‘wrong active ingredient, no active ingredient, or the incorrect dosage.’ A spokesman on behalf of the UK medicines and healthcare Regulatory Agency has added to this by emphasising how prescription medication is such for a reason, hinting at the possible side-effects of purchasing a knock-off drug.

To counter this, many are choosing to buy the drugs from a server called ‘I Want PrEP Now’ that works with the NHS to ensure the drugs are legitimate and with few side effects. GP surgeries are also offering urine tests to ensure the drug isn’t affecting kidney function as this is a common side-effect.

There are also other solutions, like giving people medication as soon as they are diagnosed, or wider testing that ensures the infection can be caught early and treated. This has made it less likely for the infection to be passed on because it reduces the amount of the virus in the genital fluid.

Both forms of treatment are important as the NHS is currently trying to make the medicine available as part of a 10,000- people trial of gay and straight individuals.

In summary, all of these treatments are promising and are hopeful for the future. If the treatments continue and are funded, hopefully HIV will no longer be an issue for future generations, and bring relief to those already suffering.