The introduction of new and effective antiretroviral drugs has made people more comfortable having unprotected sex, with dire consequences.
A recent study conducted at the University College London and published in the journal PLOS ONE asserts that ” the number of gay men catching HIV has almost doubled in 20 years,” despite education and intervention programs. The research shows that the new, and highly effective antiretroviral drugs that have become available has encouraged unsafe sex practices, especially among gay men. It says, “between 1990 and 2010, cases rose by 76% due to fewer people using condoms … During this time there was a 26% increase in teh proportion [of people] having unprotected sex.”
Professor Andrew Phillips, from the University College London told the Daily Mail,
We created a model reconstructing the HIV epidemic in men who have sex with men in the UK. In doing so, we were able to explore the interplay between HIV testing rates, antiretroviral (ART) treatment and sexual behavior on HIV transmission and incidence. By better understanding the driving forces behind the trends we have seen in the past, it will allow us to make informed choices to reduce new HIV infections in the future.
The research, however, also suggests that the rate of infections would have increased by 68% without the new antiretroviral drugs being introduced within that same time period. And that number jumps to 400% if condom use among gay men had stopped completely after the year 2000 and beyond. Because antiretroviral therapies reduce how infectious a person with HIV is, they help to lower the risk of transmission. The study found, “cases would have reduced by 25 per cent if HIV testing levels had been higher, by 32 per cent if ART had been prescribed at diagnosis or by 62 per cent if both interventions had been combined.”
Although antiretroviral drugs reduce the infectiousness of a person with HIV, the head of HIV surveillance at the Health Protection Agency, Dr. Valerie Delpech points out that it is “also vital condom use education continues,” because all research proves that using a condom greatly limits the chance of contracting or spreading HIV, but as the recent study shows, even a slight increase in unprotected sex is enough to create another epidemic and “erode the benefits of other interventions.”