The Terrence Higgins Trust has doubled both awareness and take-up among gay men of a treatment that can prevent HIV infection after exposure to the virus.

The Terrence Higgins Trust has doubled both awareness and take-up among gay men of a treatment that can prevent HIV infection after exposure to the virus.

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a month-long treatment which can prevent infection after exposure through sex or blood. It must be started within 72 hours.

When a THT survey in 2003 suggested only around 22 per cent of gay men were aware of it and those who sought it often found it hard to access, the trust launched a campaign to raise awareness and increase availability. It included:

  • A website with information on how to find the treatment and a self-assessment to establish its suitability.
  • Health clinics being encouraged to offer the treatment and details put on the website.
  • Supporters e-mailing MPs to lobby on PEP availability.
  • Sir Liam Donaldson writing to primary care trusts advising them to prescribe PEP.
  • Full-page adverts and articles in the London and Brighton gay press.
  • A PEP booklet, with 120,000 copies distributed through magazines, gay bars and partner organisations.

An internal working group set up by the trust ran the campaign alongside a steering group of sexual health clinicians, researchers and health advisers.

In 2003, just 22 per cent of gay men were aware of the treatment. But the 2005 Gay Men's Sex Survey by the trust showed this proportion had risen to 38 per cent. In 2003, 0.6 per cent of gay men had taken the treatment compared to
1.2 per cent in 2005. And only 60 per cent of those who sought it in 2003 received it, compared to 75 per cent in 2005.

It is estimated that one in 30 men taking the treatment would have become infected without it. Thirty treatments costs£22,500 while the lifetime cost of treating HIV is, at a conservative estimate, about£180,000.