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World Health Organization : "Gays, Bis and Trans Should Take Medicine"

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The latest spurt in controversial comments on men who have sex with men (MSM) came about on Friday, published by no other than the World Health Organization. Unsurprisingly, this sparked outrage in the LGBT world, and grabbed the attention of papers around the planet.

The WHO told all MSM they should take antiretroviral medicine for the rest of their sexually active lives in a news release on their website last Friday.

The report states:
Failure to provide adequate HIV services for key groups – men who have sex with men, people in prison, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people – threatens global progress on the HIV response, warns WHO.
For the first time, WHO strongly recommends men who have sex with men consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection (pre-exposure prophylaxis) alongside the use of condoms. Rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men remain high almost everywhere and new prevention options are urgently needed.

Modelling estimates that, globally, 20-25% reductions in HIV incidence among men who have sex with men could be achieved through pre-exposure prophylaxis, averting up to 1 million new infections among this group over 10 years. Studies indicate that women sex workers are 14 times more likely to have HIV than other women, men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to have HIV than the general population, and transgender women are almost 50 times more likely to have HIV than other adults. For people who inject drugs, studies show the risks of HIV infection can be also 50 times higher than the general population.
While this may be true, the fault doesn't just come from MSM and transgender women. Clearly, it's up to the responsibility of each and every one of us to fight HIV and to have practices in bed (or wherever you're doing it).

The rise in HIV infection rates could be due to the lack of preventive advertising campaigns. This is due to a lack of funding to educate people about the risks of HIV and AIDS. Non-profits need more people on the ground, and they need more financial support.

In addition, gay dating apps such as Grindr should promote safe sex a lot more clearly out of pure respect and care for their users. If these dating sites and apps were to support HIV research and encourage their users to practice safe sex, this may point us in the right direction in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

However, telling MSM and transgender women to take medicine is not the solution in my view. Antiretroviral drugs are known to have a handful of side-effects, such as increased suicide rates amongst users, or cause kidney damage leading to protein destruction and further knock-on effects.

Despite the press release, and the tweet, it was not the WHO's intention to get every man who has sex with men to take PrEP tomorrow. Or even to rush off to their family doctor to ask if they should. Instead, despite the reaction they created, the new policy is a ‘guideline targeted at decision makers’, not really at gay and bi or trans people at all. In fact, WHO’s real aim through the report was to put pressure on governments sitting on an HIV timebomb and failing to do anything about it.

Still, given the choice between being told to wear a condom, and being told to take medicine, I'd rather go for the first option. Telling users to protect themselves is common sense in my view. Telling them to get meds, is not, but it raises an interesting point.

If the WHO has gone as far as to tell all gay, bisexual men, and transgender women to take antiretroviral meds in an effort to protect themselves against the disease, clearly there's a reason (and the figures show it). The WHO can put all the pressure they want on governments who aren't doing anything about it, because there's not much our governments can do. It all comes down to individuals. People aren't being careful enough.
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