A week after the FDA handed down recommendations for the use of PrEP to help HIV-negative folks stay negative, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched a new HIV prevention campaign geared for gay and bisexual men.
"Start Talking. Stop HIV.," which is geared toward men of all races and ethnicities, hopes to encourage open communication about sexual partners, risk factors and potential HIV risk with partners. Plan to see and hear this campaign on social media, buses, subways and on the radio.
Why this particular approach?
Past data has shown that talking to your partner(s) about their sexual past, current HIV status and certain risk factors can help reduce your risk for contracting HIV.
“Only after having open and honest conversations can partners make informed choices about which strategies will work for them," says Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. He adds, “'Start Talking. Stop HIV.' urges gay and bisexual men to break the silence and take control of their health.”
But the reality is that not enough men are asking questions.
Past data found that almost 30 percent of men who have sex with men (MSM) didn’t know the HIV status of their last partner and only 65 percent of them actually talked to sexual partners about HIV and risk in the past six months. This is problematic also given that almost 1 in 6 MSM are positive and 33 percent of them are unaware that they are positive.
Part of this lack of communication can be blamed on stigma and the negative attitudes about HIV that surprisingly exist in the LGBT community. This type of stigma can disempower MSM to be frank and open with partners.
These messages around speaking up and out are especially important for Black gay and bisexual men.
A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that HIV rates among Black gay and bisexual men, ages 13-24, were up 22 percent between the years 2008-2010, with young Black MSM making up 55 percent of those infections.
Another report offers even more grim statistics.
According to the Black AIDS Institute, by the age of 25, a gay Black man has a 25 percent chance of being HIV positive. By the time he reaches 40, that number goes up to 60 percent.
Granted, personal responsibility doesn’t explain why African-Americans, especially Black MSM, are disproportionately impacted by this epidemic. More work must be done to provide access to health care: Doctors should be offering HIV tests when their patient confides in them their sexual orientation and there should be increased access to PrEP.
But encouraging honest dialogue is one important tool in our HIV prevention toolbox.
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