“We are seeing exploding epidemics,” across the world says Gottfried Hirnschall, head of WHO’s HIV department.
Infection rates are rising again among men who have sex with men, he told reporters in Geneva. Gay men had been hardest hit by AIDS pandemic when it first emerged 33 years ago.
Since then HIV/AIDS has moved from a fatal infection to a chronic manageable disease and a generation that has grown up with new treatments that make it possible to live with HIV. Hence they are less focused on the disease, he said.
Nonetheless the gay community is 19 times more likely than others to be infected by HIV, Hirnschall added.
He pointed out that in Bangkok for example, the incidence of HIV among men who have sex with men stands at 5.7 percent, which is much higher than the 1.0 percent for the overall population, he said.
That is why the UN health agency “strongly recommends men who have sex with men consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection,” according to its recently published report.
Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis medication as a single daily pill combining two antiretrovirals in addition to using condoms has been estimated to cut HIV incidence among such men by 20-25 percent, WHO said.
This could avert “up to one million new infections among this group over 10 years,” the report said.
The report pointed out that it was not only men who have sex with men who were at high risk. Transgender men and women, prisoners, people who inject drugs and sex workers together account for about half of all new HIV infections worldwide.
However, men who have sex with men are as a group most vulnerable because they have least access to healthcare services as criminalization and stigma often leave them seeking little or no help even when it is available and “will inevitably lead to more infections in those communities,” Rachel Baggaley of WHO’s HIV department told reporters.
Globally, the number of new infections plunged by a third between 2001 and 2012 and at the end of 2013, some 13 million people with HIV were receiving antiretroviral treatment, dramatically reducing the number of people dying from AIDS.
But failing to address the still high HIV incidence among certain groups was putting the overall battle against the disease at risk, Hirnschall said because most countries focus on fighting HIV infections among the general populations, paying little attention to high-risk groups.
Decriminalizing and destigmatizing these groups would also greatly help bring down HIV infections among them, WHO said.