New guidelines that urge gays to consider taking antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection are based on individual choice and do not apply to all cases, the UN’s health agency says.
The recommendations – aimed at tackling a worrying spread of the AIDS virus among homosexuals – were unveiled ahead of the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia from July 20 to 25.
In them, the World Health Organisation for the first time said it “strongly recommends” that men who have sex with men “consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection”.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a similar recommendation in May but specified that drugs were recommended if a gay individual was at risk of infection.
This would be the case, for instance, if the man had a partner with HIV or had multiple sex partners whose virus status was unknown.
Gottfried Hirnschall, head of the WHO’s HIV department, said in a telephone interview that the UN agency was making a broad recommendation that patients should consider individually, according to their circumstances.
It sought to make gays aware that antiretroviral drugs, when used with condoms, could be part of a preventive shield for those who may be courting HIV infection.
“If you live in a stable relationship or a serocordant relationship with both partners HIV negative and you have no risk, you have absolutely no reason to take” the drugs, Hirnschall said.
“If it’s a serodiscordant relationship, where one is (HIV)-positive and the other is (HIV-)negative, this might be an option that the (HIV-)negative partner considers.”
He added a cautious word about HIV drugs.
“We haven’t seen really a very high level of side effects with the studies but these are drugs, these are medicines, so somebody obviously needs to take this into consideration in making their decision.”
The guidelines may be finetuned in 2015, Hirnschall added.