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Australian man contracts HIV despite taking PrEP drug

An Australian man has been diagnosed with HIV despite taking a pre-exposure prophylaxis medication known as PrEP.

Steven Spencer, 27, from Sydney tested positive for HIV in December, despite diligently using PrEP “on demand” before and after sexual encounters in line with the advice of doctors.

He is believed to be the seventh person globally to be diagnosed with HIV while adhering to a PrEP regimen.

“I was in complete shock, as were my doctors,” Spencer said, knowing the chances were extremely rare.

Roughly half a million people worldwide take the medication, which is more than 99 per cent effective in preventing HIV when taken correctly.

The sexual health and gay community advocate has chosen to share his story to prevent misinformation that could devalue the effectiveness of PrEP.

“What happened to me doesn’t change the fact that PrEP is still the most powerful HIV preventative we have ever had,” said Spencer, one of the first men in Australia to start taking the medication more than five years ago.

Multiple international clinical trials have demonstrated that PrEP effectively prevents HIV transmission.

“It is protecting hundreds of thousands of people from HIV in an empowering way, alongside effective treatment for people living with HIV,” Spencer said.

The PrEP drug Truvada has been available in Australia since April 2018. Thousands of gay men previously had access to the drug via clinical trials or by importing it from overseas.

Nicolas Parkhill, chief executive  of ACON, a health promotion organization specializing in HIV prevention, said, “What we do not want to see happen is people doubting the effectiveness of PrEP in preventing HIV and stop taking their pills.”

Andrew Grulich, program head of HIV Epidemiology and Prevention at the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute, said PrEP had been a “game-changer for HIV prevention in Australia.”

Kirby Institute data showed HIV infections declined by almost one-third following the EPIC-NSW PrEP trial.

Grulich said most of the HIV seroconversion cases identified had involved a virus that is resistant to the anti-viral medication contained in PrEP.

“PrEP only works if it is taken correctly, so non-adherence is certainly a factor in some cases,” he said.

Grulich said the extremely rare cases did not contradict the global scientific consensus that PrEP was an extremely effective HIV prevention tool.

“Individuals should remain confident of PrEP’s effectiveness,” he said.

Spencer started HIV treatment immediately after diagnoses and within six weeks achieved an “undetectable viral load” meaning he cannot transmit HIV to anyone.

He said it was “one of the toughest periods of my life.”

Today Spencer lives “happily and healthily with HIV”, confident that he can protect others from the virus and safeguard his health for years to come.

Japan urged to stop requiring transgender sterilization

Human Rights Watch is urging Japan to drop its requirement that transgender people be sterilized to have their gender changed on official documents.

A 2004 law states people wishing to register a gender change must have their original reproductive organs removed and have a body that “appears to have parts that resemble the genital organs” of the gender they want to register. The Supreme Court in January rejected an appeal by a transgender man who wanted legal recognition without undergoing surgery.

Human Rights Watch said the compulsory sterilization requirement is abusive and outdated. A report the international rights group released Wednesday said requiring invasive and irreversible medical procedures violates the rights of transgender people who want their gender identity legally recognized.

Kenya appeals court rejects bid to ban LGBT group registration

The Kenya Court of Appeal has rejected a bid to block the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission from registering as an NGO (non-governmental organization).

Laws in Kenya require all non-profit groups to register with the NGO Coordination Board, but the board had rejected the group’s application in 2015 because it caters to LGBT+ people.

In a ruling March 22, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by the NGO Coordination Board, which sought to deny LGBT+ Kenyans the right to associate.

In a 3-2 decision, the appeals court found that LGBT+ people have a right to form an NGO, agreeing with an earlier High Court ruling that stated blocking them from doing so is a denial of their fundamental rights.

Justice Philip Waki told the court: “The issue of LGBT is rarely discussed in public. But it cannot be doubted that it is an emotive issue, the reality is that this group does exist and we can no longer deny that. Let it go down that I will not be the first to throw a stone and harm them.” 

— compiled by Larry Nichols


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