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