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Eden Woldearegay, John Giannini / AFPTV / AFP
Patients taking anti-retroviral drugs vs HIV at high risk of other STIs — study
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - December 12, 2019 - 11:24am

MANILA, Philippines — Taking anti-retroviral drugs to prevent an infection of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, a procedure known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), could put one at a high risk of contracting other sexually transmitted infections, a new study suggests.

A global study led by the Australia-based Monash University and the World Health Organisation found a correlation that people seeking PrEP to prevent HIV were also at high risk of other STIs.

Physician Jason Ong from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and WHO worked with a team of researchers to conduct a global systematic review evaluating the prevalence and incidence of STI among individuals using PrEP.

“The review, published in JAMA Network Open, highlighted the limited focus and investment in STI management within HIV programmes,” a WHO release dated Thursday (Philippine time) read.

“The review showed that a quarter (24%) of people initiating PrEP were diagnosed with either chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis before they started taking PrEP. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of those continuing to use PrEP were diagnosed with either chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis within a year of starting PrEP.”

PrEP is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at very high risk of getting HIV to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day.”

The treatment, when taken daily, has been found to reduce the risk of sexually-transmitted HIV by around 99% and drug injection-relation HIV by at least 74%. PrEP is less effective if not taken consistently.

However, condoms are necessary to prevent other STIs since PrEP only protects against HIV.

This corresponds with the study’s findings that HIV risk factors, such as low condom use, barriers to accessing or using condoms, and having more than one sexual partner are also the same risk factors of other STIs.

Physician Rachel Baggaley from the WHO Department for HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections said that PrEP remains to be maximized in many parts of the world.

“High numbers of curable STIs are being missed particularly in low- and middle-income countries. PrEP services can help prevent not just HIV but also STIs, and we should take advantage of this opportunity,” Baggaley, a co-author of the study, said in the release.

HIV and its most advanced stage, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), afflict millions worldwide and remain a major public health issue.

“Due to gaps in HIV services, 770 000 people died from HIV-related causes in 2018 and 1.7 million people were newly infected,” a WHO fact sheet read.

WHO has recommended PreP since 2015 for people at risk of HIV. More than 60 countries worldwide have national policies implementing the treatment.

However, most PrEP treatments are being implemented in high-income countries and are still being developed for low- and middle-income countries.

“PrEP has the potential to be one of the most significant and powerful interventions to prevent HIV infection, and this paper has now highlighted an additional advantage of PrEP; that it provides an opportunity to improve the sexual health of those individuals and populations at highest risk of both HIV and STIs,” Melbourne Sexual Health Centre Director Professor Christopher Fairley said.

AIDS CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION HIV HIV TREATMENT SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO)
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