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Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake and adherence experiences of gay and bisexual men who engage in chemsex : A qualitative study

Abstract

Background

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the use of HIV antiretroviral medications to reduce the risk of HIV acquisition. PrEP is highly effective when used during periods of potential HIV exposure. Gay and bisexual men (GBM) who engage in unprotected chemsex (without condoms or PrEP) are at high-risk of acquiring HIV. Substance use has been shown to detrimentally impact on the effective use of HIV treatment among GBM living with HIV. This study aims to qualitatively explore PrEP uptake and adherence among GBM who engage in chemsex in the United Kingdom.

 

Methods

Nineteen semi-structured in-depth telephone interviews were conducted with self-identifying HIV-negative GBM who reported recently engaging in chemsex and currently using or had recently used PrEP. We explored the ways in which chemsex influenced GBM’s motivation to use, access to and effective use of PrEP. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and coded using thematic analysis.

 

Results

Most of the men identified as gay, were of white ethnicity and had a median age of 41. Eighteen men were still using PrEP at the time of the interview and most used daily dosing. The perception of being at high risk of HIV acquisition was a key factor influencing PrEP initiation and after initiation, continued to influence high levels of adherence which was reported by the majority of participants. The few individuals who reported sub-optimal adherence, explained that psychosocial stressors or periods of impaired mental health led to more frequent or intense chemsex sessions, which in turn contributed to occasional non-adherence. Most participants used a variety of strategies to help them adhere, which included restricting the amount or intensity of chemsex they engaged in, strategic placement of PrEP and external triggers to remind them to take PrEP.

 

Conclusions

In this study, the majority of GBM who engaged in chemsex, initiated PrEP in recognition of their potential risk of HIV acquisition and reported high levels of PrEP adherence. They used multiple strategies to support effective PrEP access and adherence. These findings support a growing body of evidence that PrEP is a viable prevention tool for GBM who engage in chemsex, and that chemsex does not negatively impact PrEP adherence.

Auteur(s) : Maxwell, S., et al.