For the first time in history, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has suggested that all men who have sex with men should take antiretroviral medication. Warning that if no action is taken, there would be a serious risk of an HIV infection rates exploding around the world.

The WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations. As such, they are responsible for leading global health matters, shaping the research agenda and setting the standards in health trends.

Gottfriend Hirnschall, the head of WHO’s HIV department, says that infection rates of HIV among homosexual men are on the rise again, 33 years after the epidemic hit. Further, than this, he believes that the infection doesn’t hold as much fear to a younger generation with access to drugs that enable users to live with AIDS.

The guidelines have been published after a period of a significant drop in HIV transmission rates between 2001 and 2012.

Antiretroviral medication is the most common used method of managing HIV/AIDS, treatment being a combination of two drugs, in one pill, taken daily for the rest of the individual’s life. There are several issues with the use of such medication, the main one being an intolerance to the drug, which can have serious side effects such as gastrointestinal tract intolerance, hypersensitivity and central nervous system adverse effects. With such severe side effects, it must be questioned why the WHO would subject them on healthy individuals unnecessarily.

The suggested approach is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), meaning that even those who are not infected would be required to take the medication. With the hope that it could cut the number of new diagnoses by up to 20%.

The WHO believe that medicating ALL homosexual men will provide an additional method of preventing infection. Along with condom use and regular testing. But activists have suggested that introducing government mandated antiretroviral would discourage the use of condoms, currently the best method to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Resulting in an increase of other sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia and hepatitis in the gay community.

PrEP treatment averages at roughly £10,000 a year, per individual. This is an extremely expensive medication, especially considering that the majority of those who will be forced to take the medication will not be infected. Unfortunately, by increasing the number of people taking the drugs, with the same supply, the cost of the drug would rise. This is one of the main complaints about the proposal, as it encourages the use of a costly medicine for a preventable disease.

The second danger of introducing this medication would be running the risk of the HIV virus evolving immunity to current drugs. Recently there has been much concern about the overuse of antibiotics and how they have become less effective as viruses evolve immunity. HIV is already a deadly disease that has been a cause of death across the globe. If it were to further evolve, current treatment would become ineffective and we would be faced with the same crises that were present in the 70s and 80s.

Those that are most at risk of infection are gay and bisexual men, who are up to 19 times more likely to be infected with the virus than the general population, according to WHO studies. But for transgendered women, injecting drug users and female sex workers, the risk of infection can be up to 50 times higher than the general public.

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So why are the homosexual community the only ones being targeted by the WHO? By targeting the homosexual community specifically, the WHO are contributing to the stigma that HIV is a “gay disease”.

That, in turn, creates the impression that gay sex is wrong. using HIV as a way to discriminate against homosexuals.

In a world where homosexuality is a capital crime in five countries and punishable by imprisonment in over 70 more, the issue of stigma, discrimination and violence are still a real threat to the homosexual community. The WHO has made it clear that it does not class homosexuality as a disease, but the recent guidelines would result in homosexuals being medicated as if it were one.

The sad truth is, that almost every other high-risk group are seeing a decrease in HIV infection rate but the homosexual community is seeing an increase since 2012. New HIV cases are being seen, mostly, in young people. This can easily be explained by the fact that gay sexual education is far more unique and complex than what is being taught or more importantly what is not being taught in schools.

Let’s not forget that compulsory sex education is not required by UK law and back in January an amendment to introduce compulsory sex education, including information about same-sex relationships, sexual violence, consent and safe sex, was rejected by the House of Lords.

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A far cheaper alternative would be mandating by law that all young people should be taught about every form of contraception, safe sex methods and importance of regular testing. With a comprehensive sexual education, the dangers of HIV/AIDs and other STIs will be made known to the next generation. Equally as importantly, taught in such a manner, the stigma attached to HIV as the “gay” disease would hopefully be removed. Education is clearly preferable over medication.


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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.