An Australian study has found gay and bisexual men taking HIV prevention medication PrEP also have significantly lower levels of HIV-related anxiety.
PrEP was made available in Australia through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in April 2018. When taken as directed, the once-daily pill is up to 99% effective at preventing an HIV negative person from acquiring HIV.
The new study is by the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.
The researchers suggest that alongside driving down HIV infection rates, PrEP may be enhancing gay and bisexual men’s mental health and wellbeing.
Phillip Keen from the Kirby Institute was a co-lead author on the paper. He said HIV transmission anxiety has affected gay and bisexual men’s sexual behaviours for more than 30 years.
“We’ve known for some time that PrEP is very good at protecting people from HIV,” he said.
“This new evidence suggests that another benefit of taking PrEP is improved mental health, through reduced anxiety about HIV.”
The researchers analysed data from the Following Lives Undergoing Change study. It’s a national survey of the sexual and drug use behaviours of more than 2,500 gay and bisexual men in Australia in 2018.
“Among men [eligible for PrEP], we found that levels of anxiety were significantly lower among those men who were using PrEP, compared to those who were not taking it,” Kirby Institute senior researcher Mohamed A Hammoud said.
PrEP is a highly effective HIV prevention strategy
Australian GPs can prescribe PrEP to people at risk of HIV infection. However, the Kirby Institute found less than half of people at high risk for HIV are currently taking the medication.
“These findings about reduced anxiety should inform how PrEP is promoted to gay and bisexual men and could be used to support higher PrEP use in Australia,” Hammoud said.
The Kirby Institude study was funded by Gilead Sciences Inc. and the Australian Research Council.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) CEO Darryl O’Donnell said the findings “represent a turning point” in understanding how fear of HIV has influenced sexual relationships for many gay and bisexual men.
“PrEP has provided many gay and bisexual men with a highly effective strategy to prevent HIV transmission,” Associate Professor O’Donnell said.
“It has helped many gay men enjoy sex without being fearful of HIV.”
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