Gay men among groups threatening Aids progress

Five key groups, including gay men, prostitutes, and prisoners, have stubbornly high rates of HIV that are threatening progress in the global Aids battle, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.

These people are most at risk of becoming infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes Aids, yet are least likely to get HIV prevention, testing and treatment services, the Geneva-based agency said.

“Globally we are failing certain populations that have the greatest risk yet we know have universally poorer access to health services. These are men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender persons, specifically transgender women, persons who inject drugs and persons who are in prisons or other closed settings,” Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO’s department said.

“We are seeing exploding epidemics in some of these key populations,” he said, adding that these groups account for up to 50% of new cases of HIV infection.

The WHO said studies estimate that female sex workers are 14 times more likely to have HIV than other women, gay men are 19 times more likely to have HIV than the general population, and transgender women are almost 50 times more likely than other adults to have HIV.

For injecting drug users, the risks of HIV infection can be 50 times higher than the general population.

For the first time, the WHO said it “strongly recommends” that men who have sex with men should consider taking anti-retroviral Aids drugs as an extra way of protecting themselves, alongside using condoms.

Such an approach, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, is a way for people who are at risk of getting HIV to protect themselves by taking a single pill, usually a combination of two anti-retrovirals, a day.

PrEP, when taken consistently, has been shown to cut the risk of HIV by up to 92%.


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