Almost 10,000 gay and bisexual men in Australia took PrEP as part of a three-year study, and the results found that the transmission rate of HIV was 90 percent lower than researchers expected.
The study from the Kirby Institute in Sydney followed the 9,709 men in New South Wales between 2016-2019. The men took PrEP for free at first before having to pay 40 Australian dollars a month for it, having been subsidized in 2018.
Published in The Lancet HIV on July 1, the research was the first in the world to measure how PrEP could reduce HIV in a large population, according to a press release by the institute. Researchers note that providing PrEP widely has shown to reduce HIV transmissions by 40 percent in Australian states.
The study’s leader, Andrew Grulich, said in the release that they were pleased to find that the modest cost of PrEP didn’t have a huge impact on HIV transmission in the participants. Grulich said during the year after participants began paying for PrEP, “we found PrEP use remained high among the study participants, and HIV rates remained very low, at about two in 1000 participants per year.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Grulich said, “This is a group, historically, we would have expected to have [transmission] rates of about 20 in 1,000 so this is about 90% lower than we would have expected without PrEP. So really, really amazingly effective intervention at the population level.”
Grulich told the outlet that the men who were diagnosed with HIV during the study had not been taking PrEP as recommended.
“We didn’t see any cases of failure of daily PrEP,” he said.
Karen Price, deputy CEO at the Australian LGBTQ+ community health organization ACON, led the community engagement part of the study.
“[Communities] were meaningfully involved in leading this study, but real credit goes to thousands of gay and bisexual men for taking action to get informed and involved in this important study,” she said in the release. “The combination of community leadership in the design and implementation of the study, as well as the actions taken by men in [New South Wales], was fundamentally important in ensuring this critical HIV prevention tool got into the hands of as many of those who needed it, as quickly as possible.”
Tony Nhan, a 30-year-old participant in the study, told The Guardian that taking PrEP changed how he thought about getting tested.
“We need to reduce stigma by making testing a normal part of everyday life and not shaming others,” Nhan said. “Taking PrEP was empowering for me to know that I am taking responsibility for my own health, regardless of the other person’s status.”