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First Belgian study to test use of preventive HIV medication

The Institute of Tropical Medicine, with support from the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT), launches the Be-PrEP-ared project on Thursday 10 September. This study is the first Belgian research project to test the applicability of preventive HIV medication among gay men as an additional tool of the Belgian prevention strategy. The researchers hope that the preventive medication may help reduce the large number of new HIV infections among gay men who have a high risk at acquiring HIV.

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a pill that contains antiretrovirals used to treat HIV. It is intended for temporary use by people who are HIV negative, but who run a substantial risk of becoming infected. The Be-PrEP-ared project investigates whether this group is prepared to use PrEP, whether they will use the drug consistently, how they perceive PrEP and whether there will be changes in their use of condoms. It will be the first time that PrEP is researched in Belgium. Various studies in other countries, including the United States, Britain and France, show that consistent use of this pill provides effective protection against HIV infection.

Prof. Marie Laga, coordinator of Be-PrEP-ared: "We have long been looking for additional ways to reduce the number of new infections in Belgium. PrEP is promising, but the consequences of preventive medication should be investigated before this treatment strategy can introduced in our country."

Timely testing and early treatment of HIV are, in addition to the promotion of safe sex, at the heart of Belgium’s national HIV prevention strategy. PrEP could provide an extra layer of protection for some groups of men who have sex with men, and who do not always use a condom. It does not protect against other sexually transmitted diseases, however.

Every day three new cases of HIV are diagnosed in Belgium, mainly in gay men and people from Sub-Saharan Africa. More than 80% of HIV infections in Belgian men are caused by homosexual contact. ITM will therefore invite this group to participate in this first research project set up in cooperation with community organisations such as Sensoa and çavaria.

Chris Lambrechts, director of Sensoa: "As an organisation that strives to ensure optimal HIV prevention, we more than welcome this project. As in other Western European countries the rate of new HIV infections among gay men remains high. PrEP could be a very effective method for a specific group of men to protect themselves even better."

Jeroen Borghs spokesman for çavaria: "We are pleased with this study and with the fact that PrEP may ultimately be integrated into the HIV prevention strategy, particularly for the small group of gay men who go for safe sex but who in certain circumstances still engage in risky behaviour. PrEP gives them extra protection. All additional interventions aimed at reducing HIV incidence should be promoted."

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