Equality for the Australian queer community is currently at the forefront of public discourse. The plebiscite is considered by many to be insulting and unnecessary, and the fight for marriage equality is vastly important. However, we mustn’t leave behind other important issues facing the queer community such as HIV prevention.
“The media plays an important role in raising awareness of PrEP and more broadly the landscape of HIV in Australia today,” said the Victorian Aids Council CEO Simon Ruth
“You also need to consider the role of testing as well as, for those living with HIV, treatment and having an undetectable viral load. The media plays an important role in helping raise awareness of these elements and an obligation to do so responsibly,” he added.
HIV negative people take PrEP, A.K.A Truvada, as a daily pill in order to reduce their risk of becoming HIV positive. It has been proclaimed as having huge potential to end transmissions in Australia. However, policy, regulatory and social hurdles are halting the drugs effects.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration approved Truvada in May last year, while the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) rejected subsidisation, locking out those who need it the most.
Those taking Truvada can expect to pay up to $10,000 if they purchase the drug in Australia. Overseas suppliers can import generic drugs, for $1300. Those priced out of access to the drug are often at the highest risk of contracting HIV.
“For PrEP to realise its full potential in preventing the onward transmission of HIV, it needs to be accessible to everyone at risk of HIV in Australia, and that will only happen when it is added to the PBS,” Ruth explained.
Australian men who have sex with men are partaking in clinical trials with the hope of making this happen.
“PrEP trials across Australia play an important role in making PrEP easier to access until it is added to the PBS,” Ruth added.
Vilification of the drug and arguments that tax payers should not foot the bill for promiscuous gay sex are are common rebuttals to HIV prevention research.
This view perpetuates a problematic idea. It says that monogamous, private, heteronormative sexuality is the only “correct” way to have sex because it is “low risk.”
These comments send a worrying message to those whose sexuality leaves them at a higher risk of contracting the virus. It questions our entitlement to the same medical protections afforded to those who are exclusively heterosexual.
Often, the incorrect notion that HIV and unprotected sex are only ‘gay’ issues drives PrEP opposition. The Kirby Institute’s Annual Surveillance Report (ASR) did find that gay men are at a higher risk of contracting HIV. However, people who identified as heterosexual accounted for 20% of new HIV transmissions.
Meanwhile, The Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR) found that men who have sex with men are 9% more likely to use condoms. More gay men are using condoms and a substantial amount of new HIV transmissions are amongst heterosexuals. So, why are gay men the target market for the PrEP trials?
Sexual health simply seems to be an active priority for gay men. The 2016 ASR also found consistent and comprehensive STI testing was common amongst over half of Australian gay men. Meanwhile, GP’s tested under 16% of heterosexual people for just one STI.
Australian publications must be fair in their coverage of HIV prevention amongst queer issues. If not, a potentially life changing drug may never reach it’s full potential.
“PrEP is a game-changing biomedical intervention that should see a dramatic reduction in new HIV infections in Australia. Australian media needs to be supportive of the impact this can have on the Australian community.” says Ruth.