Category: HIV services

Human rights violations against sex workers: burden and effect on HIV

This is part of a series of articles on HIV and sex workers published by The Lancet and freely available.

In this article Michelle Decker et al  reviewed evidence from more than 800 studies and reported on the burden and HIV implications of human rights violations against sex workers.

Abuses of human rights are  perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. Such violations directly and indirectly increase HIV susceptibility, and undermine effective HIV-prevention and intervention efforts.

Violations include homicide; physical and sexual violence, from law enforcement, clients, and intimate partners; unlawful arrest and detention; discrimination in accessing health services; and forced HIV testing.

Abuses occur across all policy regimes, although most profoundly where sex work is criminalised through punitive law.

The authors conclude that protection of sex workers is essential to respect, protect, and meet their human rights, and to improve their health and wellbeing.

Research findings affirm the value of rights-based HIV responses for sex workers, and underscore the obligation of states to uphold the rights of this marginalised population.

Important new research on lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) in gay men in the UK

Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), previously predominantly a tropical disease, re-emerged in Western Europe in 2003, and has arguably now regained endemic status in many countries. It remains largely contained within in a population of men who have sex with men (MSM) with high rates of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, though a first female case was reported in Sexually Transmitted Infections in 2012.

A recent series of papers in Sexually Transmitted Infections sheds further light on the risk factors for rectal LGV in men who have sex with men in the UK, the key symptoms and ways in which LGV presents to the clinician, and pitfalls in the currently recommended treatment and prevention strategies.

Moreover, microbiological  characteristic of LGV repeaters using surveillance data has convinced Rönn and colleagues that behaviour alone does not explain reinfection, which they see as related to centrality in sexual networks.

Together these four articles add important information on the clinical presentation, epidemiology and treatment of LGV in MSM.

Proposed research on why Somalis do not access sexual health services in UK

STIRF had agreed to fund a project by Steve Wordsworh and colleagues from the Faculty of Health, Birmingham City University  investigating the reasons why Somali refugees appear not to access sexual heaalth services. Below is a brief description of the propsed project:

In the United Kingdom there is an established and growing refugee population that have arrived from Somalia. Despite this, the Somali population are often not included in ‘official’ statistics largely because the community is rarely recognised as a distinct ethnic category.

Because of this we often unaware of the health or social needs of those who arrive in the UK from a Somalia background, therefore it is inevitable that the support and needs of this community is often sadly neglected. So despite a very real need for help and support the uptake of health services is very low.

We are particular concerned with low access to sexual health service from of our local Somali community in Birmingham. So building on expertise in both working with the Somali community and in sexual health, staff from BCU are planning to undertake a study that seeks to explore just what exactly are the sexual health needs of Somali refugees, importantly we will be seeking to gather their views and perspectives directly from the community itself, we aim to found out  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 support their needs.

Furthermore, it is our intention that that results from this research can be used to inform service provision by identifying barriers to access and any opportunities that may help to overcome them.

Project on the role of shame in failure to attend for STI and HIV testing shame approved for funding

The 2013 round of applications for funding has resulted in approval for the following pilot project:

Designing a Research project for understanding the role of stigma and shame in STI and HIV testing 

The project will be headed by Phil Hutchinson, Ph.D. (Man.), M.A. (Man.), B.A. (London), Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University.

The aim of the preliminary project is to find the methodology to test the hypothesis: is shame one of the reasons for failing  to attend for STI and HIV testing. The project will be completed within six months involving setting up workshops with groups involved with both patient groups and those sexual health care.

HIV testing in the street: a useful tool for widening coverage

The March issue of the journal STI included an article by Sonia Fernandez-Balbuena and colleagues in Madrid which demonstrated that offering HIV testing on the street  may allow a significant number of hard-to reach populations to offer themselves for HIV testing.

Of 7552 persons in various Spanish cities who were asked to full a brief questionnaire and offered HIV testing 3517 participants (47%) were first-time testers. These included 24% of men who have sex with men , 56% of exclusively heterosexual men and 60% of women. 22 undiagnosed HIV infections were detected with a global prevalence of 0.6% and 3.1% in MSM.

The authors concluded that their community programme attracted a substantial number of persons previously untested and particularly hard to reach, such as those with low education and MSM who were least involved in the gay community.

In their view a decisive in decisive factor for almost two of every three persons who had never been tested. was the visibility of the programme.

Sexual behaviour in UK

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and lifestyles (Natsal) has been investigating sexual behaviour across a wide range of people, geographical spread and life styles at 10 year intervals since 1990. Natsal is the most extensive, authoritative and accurate investigation of sexual behaviour in the United Kingdom.

The latest report was published as always in the Lancet. The survey shows some interesting changes in sexual behaviour including a narrowing in the gap between men and women in same sex relationships.

Over 15,000 pople were interviewed using validated methodology that minimises bias.  Data were compared between Natsal-1 (1990—91), Natsal-2 (1999—2001), and Natsal-3.

82·1% of men and 77·7%  of women reported at least one sexual partner of the opposite sex in the past year. The proportion generally decreased with age, as did the range of sexual practices with partners of the opposite sex, especially in women.

The increased sexual activity and diversity reported in Natsal-2 in individuals aged 16—44 years when compared with Natsal-1 has generally been sustained in Natsal-3, but in men has generally not risen further. However, there was evidence of increased sexual activity and also increase in same sex activity in women.

In women the number of male sexual partners over the lifetime , proportion reporting ever having had a sexual experience with genital contact with another woman , and proportion reporting at least one female sexual partner in the past 5 years  increased since the last report in 2000.

Interestingly the reported number of occasions of heterosexual intercourse in the past month had reduced but there was a reported expansion of heterosexual sexual repertoires—particularly in oral and anal sex—over time.

Also of note: while acceptance of same-sex partnerships increased so did  intolerance of non-exclusivity in marriage  in men and women in the latest survey.

The authors concluded that:

“Sexual lifestyles in Britain have changed substantially in the past 60 years, with changes in behaviour seeming greater in women than men. The continuation of sexual activity into later life—albeit reduced in range and frequency—emphasises that attention to sexual health and wellbeing is needed throughout the life course.”

What is in the May issue of STI

The latest issue of STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) contains articles on increasing resistance of bacterial STI’s, a successful  educational interventions in South London to encourage HIV testing and data supporting the willingness by a substantial section of men who have sex with men to use pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV.

particularly worrying is the emergence of a novel strategy by the gonococcus to avoid detection by the now widely used DNA amplification methods.

Non-disclosure of known HIV status in patients visiting a sexually health clinic

Currently in the UK it is estimated that 24%, approximately 22 200 individuals, are unaware of their HIV infection . These data are derived from statistical modelling of many  surveillance, and survey-based data sources. One of the surveillance programmes used is the unlinked anonymous HIV seroprevalence survey, the GUMAnon Survey, where patients who have blood taken at a sexually health clinic would in addition give an additional sample which is tested for HIV after the sample is completely anonymised. The limited information accompanying the sample includes whether the person is known to be HIV positive, has a test in the clinic or refuses an HIV test.

A recent study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) attempted to identify HIV-infected individuals who attend a genitourinary clinics in the UK aware of their HIV status but fail to tell the clinic they are infected, or on treatment.  In this study in addition to anonymised HIV testing the positive samples had viral load (VL) estimation and after excluding known HIV positives the remaining the samples were analysed for the presence of a panel of antiretroviral drugs.

The authors identified 130 individuals attending a single London sexually transmitted infection clinic in 2009 who refused an HIV test.  Of 28 patients identified by the anonymised test  as being HIV positive who had not admitted to being infected 10 patients underwent a test at the clinic and received a positive test.

The other 18 had  refused an HIV test, although found to be positive by the anonymised test. Thirteen of these (72%, 95% CI: 47% to 90%) had a blood viral load (VL) below detection level  (n=11) or VL <1000 copies/ml (n=2) suggesting they were on antiretroviral treatment. Eight had sufficient blood to undergo antiretroviral testing, and all were positive for the presence of drug; all with therapeutic levels of clinically appropriate combinations.

Thus nearly three quarters of HIV positive patients (72%) who refused an HIV test, and hence would have been considered as not knowing their HIV status, were indeed aware of their status and are on treatment.

These results “presents a number of challenges and dilemmas both for clinics and surveillance systems” says Jackie Cassell, editor of STI journal, who went on to also points out the difficult issues of confidentiality in sexual health services in the age of electronic health records.

HIV treatment of infected partner reduces transmission in heterosexual couples

Based on results of randomised clinical trials the World Health Organization recommends antiretroviral drugs for all HIV infected adults in serodiscordant heterosexual relationships at all stages of the disease. But does this strategy work in real life situations?

A recent study published in the Lancet has for the first time reported that such a public health approach is feasible and the outcomes are sustainable at a large scale and in a developing country setting.

New analyses from China look encouraging, say researchers. Between 2003 and 2011, uninfected partners of treated people were significantly less likely to seroconvert than uninfected partners of untreated people (1.3 infections/100 person years (95% CI 1.2 to 1.3) v 2.6 (2.4 to 2.8)). After adjustments, treatment of infected partners was associated with a 26% reduction in risk of transmission to uninfected partners (hazard ratio 0.74, 0.65 to 0.84).

The analyses compared around 24 000 treated couples with nearly 15 000 untreated couples registered in China’s national HIV epidemiology database.

It is hard to say whether treatment was entirely responsible for reducing transmission, because people who were treated were older, sicker, and may have had less sex, or less risky sex, than those who were not yet treated, says a linked comment by the Lancet

But the findings hint at a direct effect. Treated couples looked better protected, despite the relatively low CD4 counts (and presumably higher viral loads) necessary for treatment in China.

Treatment was associated with lower transmission when HIV had been acquired from a transfusion of blood products (50% of the treated couples) or heterosexual sex, but not when it had been acquired from injecting drugs.