A Rough Week for the Irish Blood Transfusion Service

On Monday the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) revealed that the non-invasive method it had been using to test potential donors for anaemia was unreliable and “gives inaccurate results in some individuals with anaemia”. This was particularly embarrassing since the IBTS had not long ago been touting being the first national transfusion service to adopt this method.

As a result of the problem with the anaemia tests the IBTS stopped taking donations from women who have donated in the last 18 months while this faulty screening procedure was being used. They predicted a drop in donations which will reduce the blood supply by about a quarter, so they’re appealing to men to donate.

Of course, if need be they can import blood products from other countries. Incidentally, those other countries include “jurisdictions where the rules governing men who have sex with men [are] not as stringent as those in the Republic.”

Continue reading A Rough Week for the Irish Blood Transfusion Service

New blood donation policies in Europe

In the last couple of weeks two more European countries have announced plans to change their blood donation policies for gay and bisexual men. The Netherlands has modified the lifetime ban on men who’ve had sex with men to a 12-month ban, while France is pursuing a multi-stage approach that should eventually arrive at a policy that will treat people equally regardless of the sex of their sexual partners.

Continue reading New blood donation policies in Europe

How not to give a PEP talk

I sometimes wonder if post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, or PEP, might have arrived too soon. The idea is sound: taking anti-retroviral medication (ARVs) immediately after exposure to HIV prevents the virus from establishing an infection. We know it works, but when PEP was first being rolled out the drugs that were available were pretty harsh compared to what’s available now. Unfortunately the reputation of being a debilitatingly rough experience still dogs PEP today.

With those early PEP regimens side effects were common and severe enough that a lot of people simply never finished the 28-day course of drugs. The regimens that are used now (in Ireland and the UK it’s Truvada and Isentress) are much milder. Most people experience no side effects, and even among those who do they are usually pretty mild. Failure to complete the course because of side effects has become extremely rare.

So when I run across things like this, from the page about PEP on Ireland’s newly revamped “Spun Out” youth information website, I get kind of discouraged:

Continue reading How not to give a PEP talk

PrEP demonstration projects here and there

I just ran across this update from the New Zealand AIDS Foundation about a nascent PrEP Demonstration Project. Not much to tell—basically just “we’re working on it and we’ve got no money and we’re already quite busy”—but I couldn’t help raising an eyebrow at some of the language:

“We want to make PrEP available via sexual health doctors for those men who don’t wear condoms and put themselves and others at risk.”

Which echoes an earlier NZAF statement in response to the most recent WHO recommendations which noted that PrEP “has been shown to work for highly motivated individuals who resist other forms of safe sex.”

I wish them luck finding sponsors for the project, and I sincerely hope folks actually participating in this project will find the experience to be a little less, um, judgey in tone.

Continue reading PrEP demonstration projects here and there

Ireland’s first National Sexual Health Strategy released (at last!)

As you might have heard, Ireland’s Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, formally launched the nation’s first-ever National Sexual Health Strategy yesterday.

Although Ireland has a history of creating plans, strategies and frameworks that never amount to much, there is a lot to be hopeful about with this one. It seems unlikely that some of the more optimistic and nebulous goals of the Strategy (e.g. “the development of a culture of support, encompassing education in and outside of the school, education in the home and among sexual health practitioners”) will be realized any time soon, but an 18-point Action Plan for this year and the next sets out realistic targets which, if accomplished, could do quite a lot of good.

Continue reading Ireland’s first National Sexual Health Strategy released (at last!)

PrEP in Europe: more calls for swift action

It’s been more than 3 years since the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PrEP). Since then mounting evidence has shown that not only is PrEP highly effective at preventing HIV infection but that often it is used most by those who can most benefit from it.

Unfortunately governments in Europe have been slow to act to approve Truvada for use as PrEP and to make it available to people at risk of HIV infection. Despite the clear evidence that PrEP works, European governments and health agencies have been cautious, expressing concern over cost-effectiveness and the complexities of how to provide a method of prevention that requires ongoing support from a variety of very different medical systems.

Recently though patience has been growing thin among advocates and the calls for European governments to take prompt action to make PrEP available have been growing louder and more widespread. Last week I posted about a new statement from the UK’s National AIDS Trust which urged the NHS to “provide PrEP without delay.” Days later the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) and the European AIDS Clinical Society released a strongly-worded statement declaring that “access to pre-exposure prophylaxis is essentially and urgently needed across Europe.”

Continue reading PrEP in Europe: more calls for swift action

More on statistics about gay sex

This post from FS Magazine‘s editor Ian Howley about a survey the magazine conducted recently touches on some of the exact issues I talked about in my posts about statistics and gay sex last week, so I thought I’d share it.

The post is headlined “You won’t believe how many gay men didn’t use condoms the last time they had sex” and it offers this piece of information:
72% of gay men said they didn’t use condoms the last time they had sex. 

Although the headline and stat are deliberately alarming and sensational, Howley’s point is actually to criticise the misuse and abuse of statistics. Noting that “stats can be great to bring attention to a topic but they can also be used to manipulate a story,” he explains that this 72% figure includes all kinds of sex, not just anal sex.

Continue reading More on statistics about gay sex

PrEP and bone loss in young men

Here’s a piece from Wednesday by Liz Highleyman at hivandhepatitis.com discussing some new findings about PrEP and bone loss among young men. A presentation at the 15th European AIDS Conference (taking place this week in Barcelona) revealed that “young men participating in a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) demonstration project experienced modest but significant bone loss after starting Truvada.”

Sounds kind of serious, but is this something to be hugely worried about? Is it bad news for advocates of PrEP? Well, no, not really.

Continue reading PrEP and bone loss in young men

UK National AIDS Trust: “NHS shouldn’t withhold PrEP any longer”

Following the release of the latest Public Health England report on HIV in the UK, the National AIDS Trust (NAT) called on the National Health Service to “provide PrEP without delay.”

According to the latest figures, there were 3,360 new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men in the UK in 2014—the highest number ever recorded.

Emphasising that “current prevention work is making no dent on these numbers,” the NAT joins a growing chorus of organisations and individuals urging the NHS to act swiftly to make Truvada available for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the UK.

Continue reading UK National AIDS Trust: “NHS shouldn’t withhold PrEP any longer”

Surveys, statistics & fearmongering about gay sex (part 2)

My last post looked at how the Irish Independent presented some recent findings from the first Healthy Ireland Survey regarding condom use among gay and bisexual men in Ireland. The Independent made the alarming claim that “risky sex is widespread among gay men,” but a careful examination showed that while that may or may not be true, it was a misleading interpretation of what was reported in the Summary of Findings from the survey.

In this post I’ll look at some other claims in the article and think about what kinds of information would be helpful for efforts to turn around the rising rates of new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men in Ireland.

Continue reading Surveys, statistics & fearmongering about gay sex (part 2)