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Three-quarters of Vancouver gay men had never heard of PrEP

Truvada now approved by Health Canada but many men still in the dark, study shows

HIV prevention drug Truvada may now be Health Canada approved, but most of the men who need it most had never even heard of it when asked by researchers between February 2012 and 2014, a new Vancouver study shows.

Only about a quarter of the study’s respondents knew about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs to prevent HIV; the percentage was even lower among men who are HIV-negative.

Originally designed to treat HIV, Truvada has been found to prevent it as well. Intended for those most at risk of contracting HIV, Truvada can cut new infections as effectively as condoms if taken daily.

Researchers at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found in a study published Feb 16, 2016, that of a group of 700 gay and bisexual men, about 21 percent of HIV-negative men and 27 percent of HIV-positive men knew about PrEP.

Of those who knew, most said they did not know much, and only about half had discussed PrEP with their partners. None of the respondents were actually using the drug.

The study also found that men who are young, less likely to use condoms, and tend to bottom were even less knowledgeable about PrEP.

Researchers say this shows an urgent need for doctors and community organizations to spread the word.

A similar study last year found that only half of Vancouver gay and bisexual men had heard of treatment as prevention — using drugs to suppress the viral load of HIV-positive people in order to reduce their risk of transmitting HIV and prevent new infections.

Health Canada only approved Truvada for use as PrEP in late February, but access remains limited due to a $1,000 a month price tag, reluctant insurance companies, and lack of support from provincial governments. Only Quebec covers Truvada as PrEP in a provincial drug program.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 3, 2016 to include when the study was conducted.

This story is filed under News & Ideas, AIDS/HIV, Vancouver