Recently diagnosed gay men talk about their HIV treatment decisions
With thousands of the world's HIV researchers meeting in Melbourne this week for the International AIDS Conference there will be much discussion about HIV treatments.
Delegates will hear the latest research findings about the optimal time for people diagnosed with HIV to initiate treatment in order to achieve the best health outcomes, with current evidence suggestingthat starting treatments earlier reduces harm done to the immune system, improving long-term health.
Another area of intense research is the role that HIV treatment has in reducing the risk of onward transmission of HIV. Studies have reported that achieving undetectable viral load through effective treatment practically eliminates the chances of passing the virus to sexual partners. Though most of this evidence is among heterosexuals, current studies are underway, including the Opposites Attract study here in Australia, to understand if the same protection applies to sex between men. These combined benefits have led to a shift towards recommending early treatment; but how do recently diagnosed gay men in Australia feel about the prospect of beginning treatment?
An Australian study, the HIV Seroconversion Study conducted by researchers from the Kirby Institute and the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, asks participants about their intentions regarding HIV treatment. About three quarters of the men interviewed had been diagnosed within the six months prior to their interview, and half had already begun treatment. Beginning treatment was seen as a way of taking control of the virus, and as a way to protect their sexual partners. Among those who had not yet begun treatment, some expressed concerns about the potential for harmful side effects, and others did not feel ready to commit to a life-long regimen of medication.
The researchers concluded that, if early initiation of treatment is to be encouraged, appropriate mechanisms must be in place to provide recently diagnosed individuals with the information and support they need to enable them to make informed choices and to address their concerns.
The Seroconversion Study continues to recruit participants. Anyone in Australia over 16 years old who has been diagnosed with HIV sometime in the past two years is invited to participate. The study aims to understand the factors involved with HIV transmission, and learn about the experiences of people recently diagnosed. Participation is completely anonymous and involves an online survey, and an optional face-to-face interview.
Since 2007, more than 600 gay and bisexual men have completed a survey, while 100 have participated in a face-to-face interview. Information collected from the study is used to inform Australia’s response to HIV.
To find out more about the Opposites Attract Study go to: www.oppositesattract.net.au