The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants gay and bisexual men to Start Talking, Stop AIDS with a new HIV/AIDS information awareness campaign.
The campaign, which is the latest in the CDC’s Act Against AIDS initiative, was devised with the input of more than 500 gay and bisexual men from various racial and ethnic groups, ages and backgrounds from across the United States. The stated aim is to get people talking honestly and openly about HIV prevention with their sexual partners. There are a number of video segments to illustrate the tone of the campaign. You can watch an example below:
The campaign aims to give gay and bisexual men information and tips on how they can talk with their partners about things like:
- HIV testing
- knowing your HIV status
- using condoms
- what constitutes “lower-risk” sexual behaviors
- medicines that prevent HIV like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP),
- understanding antiretroviral therapy (ART)
It’s estimated that, even though gay and bisexual men make up just 2% of the overall U.S. population, 65% of all new HIV infections each year occur within the community. Despite a lot of progress, there are concerns that HIV may see a resurgence among younger members of the community who, because HIV is now manageable thanks to ART, think there is no cause to be overly concerned and don’t take precautions. Why is the LGBT population at particular risk of HIV?
The reasons for this are diverse. Poverty still affects many in the LGBT community, which has prevented people from accessing the medical care they need to both diagnose and treat HIV. There’s also a fear of discrimination in the health care sector, something that particularly affects trans women. A lack of sex education has also been blamed, and all these combine to create a chilling effect that also hampers data gathering efforts.
Other factors include that LGBT people are more likely to suffer mental illnesses like depression, which in turn can lead to greater risk-taking behavior that ultimately puts them in danger of HIV-infection, for instance drug use or unprotected sex. Undeniably though, there are men who have sex with men (who may not strictly identify as gay or bisexual) who simply prefer unprotected sex despite knowing the risks. As such, educating on all of these factors and the steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of contracting HIV is important.
The Human Rights Campaign has welcomed the CDC’s new drive, saying that recognizing the reality of how HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men as well as trans women, and particularly people of color within the community, is essential.
“We commend the CDC for launching this campaign and look forward to working with them and others to raise awareness about HIV prevention and treatment and to end the stigma fueling this epidemic,” Jeff Krehely, HRC’s Vice President & Chief Foundation Officer, is quoted as saying.
The CDC campaign’s dedicated website has a section for so-called “conversation starters” that are designed to give users a jumping off point for discussions with their partner. It is the first time a campaign like this by the CDC has acknowledged PrEP, a drug that, when taken consistently, has been clinically proven to prevent HIV with a very high success rate.
The CDC recommends that PrEP be taken by those who are HIV-negative but are at substantial risk of HIV. For instance, those who have a partner who is HIV positive, who are in non-monogamous relationships, or who are intravenous drug users.
The CDC, however, stresses that PrEP is not 100% effective and so should be used in combination with other methods, like condoms. PrEP is not capable of fighting off the host of other sexually transmitted infections and so again the CDC stresses the need to take other precautions.
You may be sensing an emerging theme, and you would be right. There is a fear that PrEP could lead to gay and bisexual men to think the health risk of unprotected sex is far lower than it actually is, and so while PrEP is an important point of the CDC’s campaign, it doesn’t perhaps get the prominence one would expect in a drive meant to combat HIV transmission and infection.
Critics have said that the CDC has in recent past dramatically under-emphasized PrEP, saying that minimizing PrEP’s role in combating HIV transmission is allowing HIV rates to continue to tick upward when there is a solution at hand. However, with balance, and knowing that the CDC is tasked with looking at the overall health situation, its measured approach in this campaign at least is understandable.
You can view the campaign’s dedicated website and Facebook page at the links provided, and they have resources centering on the campaign, as well as wider HIV/AIDS prevention and management information.
Do you think the new CDC campaign will be effective? Have your say in the comments below.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.