Author: Mohsen Shahmanesh

Daily pri-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) prevents HIV infection in high risk gay men

Daily HIV medicine taken by men who have sex with men (MSM) reduces risk of HIV infection by 86% as was reported by Molina J-M, and colleagues in the ANRS Ipergay trial  at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections held in Seattle, USA in 2015 (23LB.).

Molina et al reported the final results of a three year study which randomised MSM who were negative for HIV to either take daily HIV prophylaxis with two anti-retroviral drugs in a single tablet immediately or deferred for 1 year.

The study showed that those taking the drugs on a daily basis have a 86% reduction in the risk of being infected by HIV than MSM not taking the drug (p=0.0001). The trial was stopped in October of 2014 and all participants in the  deferred group were offered pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

As a Lancet editorial commented:

The science is now clear: oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with a coformulation of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine (Truvada) significantly reduces the risk of HIV infection among individuals at high risk of HIV infection.

The news that PrEP has shown consistent efficacy among those who take it as prescribed should be a cause for celebration, and galvanise action to ensure access to PrEP for those who could benefit the most. But almost 3 years since the US Food and Drug Administration approved tenofovir–emtricitabine for PrEP little is being done on implementation.

With more than 2 million new HIV infections every year worldwide, it is time for that to change.

Invitation to workshop: role of stigma and shame in the access to sexual health clinics

A workshop on philosophical aspects of sexual health is being held at

Seminar Room 3.28, New Business School, Manchester Metropolitan University Manchester, United Kingdom

The workshop is run by Dr Phil Hutchinson and was part funded by a research grant from Sexually Transmitted Infections Research Foundation (STIRF). Project STIRF-026

Workshop 1: The Problem of Selection Bias in Biomedical & Public Health Research. Wednesday September 16

Workshop 2: Shame, Stigma and HIV. Thursday September 17

Venue: Seminar Room 3.28, New Business School, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK

Mandatory registration: contact: marie.chollier@stu.mmu.ac.uk

Further information can be obtained from Phil Hutchinson p.hutchinson@mmu.ac.uk

 

 

Decline in high grade cervical lesions in US women

The incidence of high grade cervical lesions in young women in the United States has fallen, a new analysis has found. Susan Hariri and her colleagues reported in the journal Cancer that this may be caused by the introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine but may also be due to changes in screening guidelines.

From 2008 to 2012, 9119 cases of high grade cervical lesions (CIN2+) were reported among 18 to 39 year olds as part of a sentinel system for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In all four catchment areas the researchers found a dramatic and consistent decrease in the incidence of high grade lesions among women aged 18 to 20 over the study period.

In California the incidence fell from 94 in 100 000 to 5 in 100 000

In Connecticut it fell from 450 to 57 in 100 000

In New York it fell from 299 to 43 in 100 000

In Oregon it fell from 202 to 37 in 100 000.

No change was seen among 30 to 39 year olds.

Vaccination against HPV has been available in the US since 2006. It is offered to girls aged 9 to 12 and as part of short term catch-up scheme targeting 13 to 26 year olds. The picture is unclear, however, as the recommended age for initiating cervical cancer screening was raised to 21 years during the same period, and screening intervals have been extended.

The study concluded that the declines in CIN2+ detection in young women were likely due to reduced screening but could also reflect the impact of vaccination. 

Why don’t the Somali Refugee Community Access Sexual Health Services

A new project funded by STIRF (STIRF-027) has just been completed.  

Background: In the United Kingdom there is an established and growing refugee population from Somalia. Despite this Somalis have remained absent from much of the official statistics largely because ‘Somali’ is rarely recognised as a distinct ethnic category. Little is known about the sexual health needs of this particular community but in terms of their broader health issues, Somalis are known to have a high level of need but low uptake of health care services (Carswell et al.2011).

Aims: Through the use of focus groups and individual interviews this study sought to explore the sexual health needs of the local Somali community by ascertaining from their perspective, what they know about sexual health services, the challenges that may prevent them taking up these services and how services could be adapted to best meet their needs.

Results: The study showed little knowledge of services, especially about sexual health, how to accessing services, issues relating to shame, stigma and taboo, the influence of gender, religious and cultural norms, the perceptions of young people, the language barrier lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity demonstrated by healthcare professionals.

Recommendations:

  • Urgent attention be given to raising awareness, amongst the Somali community, about local sexual health services and how they can be accessed.
  • Information about sexual health services be made available in a format that is accessible to the Somali refugee community, for example, via a CD, DVD or USB stick.
  • That public health professionals and health care practitioners make clear the concept of preventative screening, making explicit the value of screening and early diagnosis for infectious diseases including TB and HIV/AIDS.
  • Health practitioners and public health professionals exercise extreme sensitivity when discussing issues related to sexual health and well-being. Every effort must be made to gain the trust of the individual so that they are able to discuss their fears or concerns.
  • Public health professionals and health care practitioners receive appropriate training and education so that they are equipped with the necessary cultural understanding and skills when working with the Somali community.
  • That a proactive approach be taken to helping Somali refugees to attend a programme of induction that includes language classes.
  • That a register of trained interpreters, who understand medical terminology and who are trained to work with those who may have experienced rape and torture should be available for public health professionals and health practitioners. Telephone interpretation should also be made available during consultations.

The results of the study have been presented in international meetings and published in reputable international journals.

Start HIV treatment regardless of CD4 count

A large international study (INSIGHT START) published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that starting antiretroviral therapy immediately after human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosis rather than waiting until a patient’s CD4+ count has declined is of considerable benefit.

The results of the study were also released at the International AIDS Society conference in Vancouver, Canada, on 20 July.

Currently most authorities strongly recommend starting anti-HIV once CD4+ count drops to below 350 cells per cubic millimetre. Until the INSIGHT START study there was no randomized trials  showing the benefits and risks of initiating antiretroviral therapy in patients with asymptomatic HIV infection who have a CD4+ count of more than 350 .

START study conducted in 35 countries randomly assigned 4,685 HIV positive patients to either receive immediate antiretroviral therapy (median CD4+ of 650) or wait until their counts fell to below 350.

After a mean follow up of 3 years the study found that 42 patients in the immediate-initiation group died, as compared with 96 patients in the deferred-initiation group  (95% confidence interval, 0.30 to 0.62; P<0.001). Reduction in deaths were largely from tuberculosis, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and malignant lymphomas – conditions that can occur in HIV-infected individuals with only moderately damaged immune systems.

Currently the WHO requires all patients with HIV to be treated CD4+ of 500 or less. WHO may need to extend that to treating anyone at diagnosis. This would not only benefit the individual but by reducing viral shedding in body secretions reduce transmission and hence have a public health benefit. Moreover some of the costs of starting early would be offset by not needing to perform repeated CD4+ counts.

One in ten men in Britain report paying for sex sometime in their life – a national study

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) is a survey of men and women carried out in the Britain every 10 years. It remains the most extensive and accurate study of sexual behaviour in a carefully selected population of men and women in the UK that reflect the population of sexually active individuals.

Natsal-3 is a  sample survey of 15,162 men and women (6,293 men) aged 16–74 years, resident in Britain, undertaken between September 2010 and August 2012. Participants were interviewed using a combination of face-to-face, computer-assisted, personal interviewing (CAPI) and computer-assisted self-interviewing (CASI). The more sensitive questions, including those on paying for sex and sex while outside the UK, were asked in the CASI.  

Kyle Jones and her colleagues reported on the results of the questions relating to men who admitted to have paid for sex. 

Their results show that round one in 10 men in Britain report having ever paid for sex at some time. These men are more sexually active than men who do not report having had paid for sex. They have a higher number of sexual partners, only a minority (18.4%) of which are paid.

They are also more likely to report a diagnoses of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) even when accounting for their disproportionately larger number of sexual partners (which is considered the most important behavioural variable associated with STI diagnoses).

This evidence strongly supports the idea that this subgroup of men are a bridge for the sort of sexual mixing (dissociative mixing) that increases the spread of STIs.

Men who pay for sex (MPS) are most likely to be aged between 25 and 34 years, single, in managerial or professional occupations, and have high partner numbers.

After adjusting for the key risk behaviour of sexual partner numbers, these men still report many other sexual behaviours, such as having new foreign partners while outside the UK, less attendance at STI clinic and less condom use. They therefore show an increased vulnerability to STI without taking the necessary precautions.

Interestingly, for some reported behaviours, such as sex partners outside the UK, same sex contact, sex partners found online, and concurrent partners (more than one partner at any time), total and paid partner numbers increase.

This suggests that MPS exhibiting these behaviours have higher lifetime partner numbers than other MPS as well as higher paid partner numbers, putting them at a higher risk for STIs than other MPS.

sexual health teaching at schools works for girls better than boys

Men and women, aged 17–24 years, were interviewed from 2010–2012 for third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles in the UK. The authors  examined how the source of information about sexual matters was associations with sexual behaviours and outcomes.

The study looked at the main source of information (school, a parent or other); age and circumstances of first heterosexual intercourse; unsafe sex and distress about sex in past year; experience of sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses. Women were also asked if they ever had non-volitional sex or an abortion.

The results,  published in the BMJ, concluded that gaining information mainly from school was associated with reduction of a range of negative sexual health outcomes, particularly among women. These included, older age at first sex, less likelihood of unsafe sex and previous STI diagnosis. In all cases the effect was more significant for women.

Women were also more likely to be sexually competent at first sex and less likely to have  non-volitional sex, abortion and distress about sex. 

Gaining information mainly from a parent was associated with some of these, but fewer participants cited parents as a primary source.

The findings emphasise the benefit of school and parents providing information about sexual matters and argue for a stronger focus on the needs of men.

Effectiveness of alcohol advise in sexual health clinics

Are sexual health (sexually transmitted infection) clinics a suitable venue to give advise on alcohol abuse? A recently published randomised controlled trial of rapid screening and advise in three London-based sexual health clinics showed little effect of screening and advise on alcohol consumption, or unsafe sexual behaviour six months later.

802 people aged 19 years or over who attended one of three sexual health clinics and were drinking excessively were randomised to either brief advice or control treatment. Brief advice consisted of feedback on alcohol and health, written information and an offer of an appointment with an Alcohol Health Worker. Control participants received a leaflet on health and lifestyle.

The primary outcome was mean weekly alcohol consumption during the previous 90 days measured 6 months after randomisation. The main secondary outcome was unprotected sex during this period.

Among the 402 randomised to brief advice, the adjusted mean difference in alcohol consumption at 6 months was −2.33 units per week (95% CI −4.69 to 0.03, p=0.053) among those in the active compared to the control arm of the trial.

Unprotected sex was reported by 53% of those who received brief advice, and 59% controls (p=0.496).

In a linked leading article in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections Keith Radcliffe and Nicola Thornley review the links between alcohol misuse and unsafe sexual practices. They report conflicting information as to the benefits of behaviour intervensions, both in terms of reduction in the consumption of alcohol and in unsafe sexual behaviour.

The current study adds to the growing literature on the difficulties of behaviour intervention in having lasting effects on behaviour changes, whether it is sexual or eating habits.

Clearly more work is needed to help translate knowledge into behaviour.

 

Malcom Gibb

Malcom Gibb who had served on the Board of Trustees since 2009 sadly passed away in early January this year. Malcom not only supported STIRF since its early inception but through his links with the Jo Li Foundation provided regular financial support. Without his help STIRF would not have been able to fund many of the projects that were successfully completed. The board of Trustees of STIRF send their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Malcom. I will miss him, not only as a valued colleague, but even more as a very dear friend.