Sexual health experts at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have revealed details of a major review of Scotland’s national HIV prevention PrEP programme to mark World AIDS Day today (December 1).
Scotland was one of the first countries worldwide to successfully roll out a national PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) programme, which dramatically reduces the chances of acquiring HIV, and the findings of this new report will not only shape Scotland’s future PrEP services but will also be used to inform countries around the world.
GCU scientists have been at the forefront of research into PrEP since it was made available on the NHS free of charge in July 2017.
The report ‘How we best deliver HIV Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for maximum health gain?’ was led by Professor Claudia Estcourt after she secured £295,686 from the Chief Scientist Office.
GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences’ Professor of Sexual Health and HIV Claudia Estcourt said: “PrEP in Scotland has been a tremendous success but there is still a lot more work to be done. We need to make sure PrEP is accessible to all across society who may benefit. It’s often seen as something just for men who have sex with men but the main message is that PrEP has advantages for everybody.
“From the healthcare perspective, we need look at how we plan services, make sure they are flexible, acceptable and amenable to people in all walks of life and fit in with their busy lifestyles. PrEP is a normal part of good sexual health. There should be no fear and no stigma from taking PrEP. It’s doing the right thing to look after your sexual health and those of others in the community.”
GCU Research Fellow Dr Jennifer MacDonald added: “Partnership working and shared learning between public health professionals, NHS staff, community-based organisation staff, and representatives from key populations who could benefit from PrEP, are central elements of a successful PrEP programme.”
The study involved 117 participants within focus groups and individual interviews. These included people who had used PrEP, community-based service users, NHS staff involved in PrEP delivery across the 14 health boards in Scotland, and staff from community-based organisations serving gay, bisexual and/or men who have sex with men, transgender communities, and Black African communities. The researchers wanted to understand their awareness of and access to PrEP, their experiences of starting PrEP, staying on PrEP and using it well.
Early findings have been shared at the 33rd Congress of the International Union Against Sexually Transmitted Infections (Estonia, Sept 2019) and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Panel Meeting on PrEP (Sweden, Feb 2020) and are informing Scotland’s HIV prevention strategy.
The GCU research team are planning two special webinars at the Fast-Tracking Scotland Summit onDecember 7-9, hosted by community partners HIV Scotland and the The Interdisciplinary Research in Sexual Health (IReSH) network in Scotland, to share and discuss their findings with public health, clinical and community audiences.
Key findings include the need for targeted interventions to raise awareness and make PrEP a normal part of life, clearer guidance for PrEP users and providers on the different ways to take PrEP, and more time spent discussing side effects.
The report also found that national coordination of PrEP education and roll out helps prepare PrEP providers and ensures peer support for novel situations, like assessing the results of monitoring tests.