Researchers in Canada have tracked a significant increase in awareness of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, although low rates of actual use were reported in the Momentum Health Study.

Nathan Lachowsky, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Victoria School of Public Health and Social Policy in British Columbia, and colleagues evaluated responses to a computer-assisted survey of 732 HIV-negative and HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM) regarding PrEP between 2012 and 2016.

Awareness of PrEP among HIV-negative men increased from 18% to 80%, and awareness among HIV-positive men increased from 36% to 77%. Lachowsky and colleagues, however, determined that the higher levels of awareness were not impacting the levels of use, with only 2% of MSM surveyed using PrEP.

Researchers concluded that affordability and access were two factors that could explain the low use of PrEP, despite increased awareness. “Indigenous, Latino, bisexual and single men are less likely to be aware of the newly publicly funded HIV prevention medication,” the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS stated in their press release. Funded by the Ministry of Health through the BC PharmaCare program, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS now allows free access to PrEP for people who need the medication.

“Our team and colleagues are engaged in trying to build capacity in health care providers and within health care systems to ensure services meet the demand from the community for PrEP,” Lachowsky told Infectious Disease News. “We also need to increase health promotion to ensure that men know PrEP is funded and to ensure those men who would benefit from PrEP pursue getting it. This includes needing to address and reduce stigma associated with taking PrEP and with HIV generally.” – by Marley Ghizzone