Medicine can cut risk by 90 per­cent, but it’s not ap­proved for pre­ven­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By SHAN JUAN shan­juan@chi­

Thai­land has been a hot des­ti­na­tion for Chi­nese tourists for years. Yet many now are head­ing to the South­east Asian coun­try for a new rea­son — to buy cheap drugs to pre­vent HIV.

Pre-ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis, com­monly known as PrEP, is a type of medicine that, if taken daily, can re­duce the risk of HIV in­fec­tion via sex­ual in­ter­course by more than 90 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to health stud­ies.

Sev­eral coun­tries rec­om­mend the drugs as a weapon to pre­vent the spread of HIV among peo­ple in high-risk groups, such as gay men.

How­ever, the China Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proved PrEP in 2015 for the treat­ment of HIV/AIDS — not pre­ven­tion — which means doc­tors are not al­lowed to pre­scribe it to pa­tients un­less they test pos­i­tive for the virus.

Xiao Dong, who runs Tongzhi, an NGO based in Bei­jing that is com­mit­ted to com­bat­ing AIDS, said he be­gan trav­el­ing to Thai­land early last year, for va­ca­tions and to stock up on anti-HIV medicine.

As an openly gay man, he said health and safety are his top pri­or­i­ties: “I use both con­doms and PrEP to guard against HIV,” he said.

Ad­vo­cates say pre­ven­tion is worth­while, given that the preva­lence of HIV among Chi­nese gay men av­er­ages more than 5 per­cent in most cities and can ex­ceed 10 per­cent in ma­jor me­trop­o­lises, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for AIDS and Sex­u­ally Trans­mit­ted Disease Con­trol.

Given in­creas­ing aware­ness, more gay men in China have fol­lowed suit. Xiao said

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