The World Health Organization (WHO) has made a bold new recommendation that could have significant implications for the fight against HIV. All men who have sex with men (MSM), the guidelines suggest, should consider taking PrEP to help prevent HIV infection.
PrEP is shorthand for pre-exposure prophylaxis — when people who are HIV-negative take a regular regiment of antiretrovirals medication, which has been found to drastically reduce the possibility of infection. The WHO estimates that PrEP could reduce HIV incidence in men who have sex with men by 20–25 percent over ten years, noting, “Rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men remain high almost everywhere and new prevention options are urgently needed.”
The recommendation is not that all MSM should be on PrEP, but that all MSM should consider PrEP as “an additional HIV prevention choice within a comprehensive HIV prevention package.” In other words, MSM should consider how risky their behaviors are and consider all of the possible tools available to protect themselves accordingly.
The guidance notes that there are many obstacles to implementation, including stigma, access to basic HIV services, laws that criminalize sex between men, personal safety and security, and privacy and confidentiality protections.
Mitchell Warren, Executive Director of AVAC (Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention) is “quite delighted” with the new guidelines, which follow similar recommendations from U.S. officials issued earlier this year. He told ThinkProgress that these milestones are “huge steps to empower individuals to see if PrEP is for them.” But, he also notes that there is a lot of infrastructure to build to catch up with the ideals of PrEP implementation: “Innovations can take decades to progress… and we have decades more work to do.”