A new study showed a rise in familiarity and favorable opinion of PrEP, medicine that can be taken to prevent contracting HIV, among men at risk in the LGBTQ+ community. The study from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) presented mixed results, though, with less than one-in-ten eligible men consistently taking the drug, sold under the names Truvada and Descovy. While PrEP use increased by 90 percent during a portion of the study, consistent use was found to be less than 10 percent among eligible at-risk men.
The study was entitled “Longitudinal trends in PrEP familiarity, attitudes, use and discontinuation among a national probability sample of gay and bisexual men, 2016–2018” and appeared in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE. In it, researchers observed the perception and usage practices of PrEP among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM). Of the over 366,000 potential participants, only 2,882 met the eligibility criteria for the study and agreed to participate. However, only 1,345 of those actually completed the multi-year survey. The study was self-reporting, meaning participants were asked to complete a survey either online or via a mailed copy returned with a self-addressed and pre-stamped envelope.
A series of questions were used to assess participants perception and use of PrEP. “Are you for or against HIV-negative people taking Truvada as PrEP to prevent the transmission of HIV?” was used to assess attitude, for example. According to the report, “responses were dichotomized: ‘For it’ (‘I am for it’) vs. ‘not for it’ (‘I am against it,’ ‘I have mixed feelings about it,’ ‘I don’t have an opinion,’ ‘I don’t know enough about it’).”
The study found that over two-thirds of the study participants had previously heard of PrEP, and 90 percent reported a willingness to use the drug. However, the study found that actual use of PrEP lagged far behind those sentiments. For example, 33 percent of those participants who used the drug discontinued use by the end of the study. The study made clear there were a number of possible reasons for discontinuation, including a change in sexual activity, switching to condoms, entering a monogamous relationship, as well as difficulty in maintaining the dosing schedule.
According to the study, “PrEP use among gay and bisexual men remains low in the United States” and that there is “substantial room for improvement.” Among the barriers cites for PrEP use are cost, lack of access to a provider, and poor communication between patient and provider.