Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) continues to rise globally (1), and China has faced the same epidemic. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are innovative strategies that have been proven to be effective in HIV prevention among MSM (2). However, the strategies have not been implemented nationwide in China. From October 2018 to September 2019, a pilot program was conducted to establish a delivery mode of PrEP/PEP services and inform the development of national PrEP/PEP guidelines. This pilot program established PrEP and PEP services targeting MSM in seven sites in China. Data such as the number of MSM taking PrEP/PEP and the number of follow-up for PrEP/PEP users were collected. In the pilot program, MSM users of PrEP or PEP were limited. There were more MSM taking PEP than those who were taking PrEP. The high costs of drugs were the main barrier for MSM who met the criteria of PrEP or PEP uptake but chose not to take it. Follow-up rates were low for both PrEP and PEP users. PrEP and PEP knowledge dissemination should be strengthened among MSM. Generic low-cost drugs for PrEP and PEP may increase the availability and acceptability of these drugs in controlling the HIV epidemic.
This pilot program was implemented from October 2018 to September 2019 in 7 sites including the following areas: Beijing Municipality, Tianjin Municipality, Harbin City of Heilongjiang Province, Changsha City of Hunan Province, Nanning City of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Kunming City of Yunnan Province, and Guiyang City and Zunyi City (site covered both cities) of Guizhou Province. Each site set up 1–2 PrEP/PEP clinics for implementing the program. Information of the program was disseminated through online advertising posted in mobile phone applications, instant messaging chat rooms, and other websites known to be frequently used in the Chinese MSM community. The program was also promoted at China CDC voluntary counseling and testing clinics and by peer referral from community-based organizations.
Participant eligibility criteria for PrEP/PEP uptake included the following: 1) being biologically male; 2) being 18 years or older; 3) having had at least one sexual contact with another male in the past; 4) being tested HIV negative; and 5) being at risk of HIV infection, which could mean that the individuals in the past six months have had multiple male sex partners or sexually transmitted diseases, have been involved in commercial sex, or have had male sex partners who have used club drugs or who have infected with HIV. In addition, potential PEP users must have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours.
At PrEP/PEP clinics, participants received counseling and risk assessment of HIV infection. If assessed to be at risk of HIV infection, they would be tested for HIV, syphilis, Hepatitis B, and serum creatinine. Those tested as HIV negative would sign a written informed consent form and received a prescription from doctors at clinics. The first follow-up was one month after the first visit at clinics, and the following follow-ups took place every three months. At each follow-up, participants received the same testing as the first visit and a prescription. With the prescription, they could purchase drugs at hospitals or pharmacies. PrEP users took drugs on a daily basis or sex-event driven basis, and PEP users took drugs every day for 28 days (3–4).
Data on the PrEP/PEP users’ demographic characteristics, HIV-risk assessments, test results, drug prescriptions, and follow-ups were collected by clinic medical staff and recorded using Microsoft Excel 2010. Data were reported to local CDCs and the national program team every month. Data analysis was performed in SPSS (version 17.0, SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL, USA).
Among 417 MSM who consulted staff about PrEP and met PrEP uptake criteria, 65.2% (272/417) chose to take PrEP. Around 98.2% (267/272) of the MSM taking PrEP were located in Beijing. Among 900 MSM who consulted about PEP and met PEP uptake criteria, 83.7% (753/900) chose to take PEP. The MSM taking PEP were mainly located in Tianjin (22.7%, 171/753), Guizhou (20.2%, 152/753), and Guangxi (22.6%, 170/753) (Table 1). Main reasons for not taking PrEP or PEP were high drug costs and concerns of side effects.
Study site PrEP PEP Number inquiring about drugs, n (%) Number of taking, n (%) Main reasons for not taking Number inquiring about drugs, n (%) Number of taking, n (%) Main reasons for not taking Beijing 327(78.4) 267(98.2) Side effects, bone mineral density 55(6.1) 32(4.2) Side effects Tianjin 69(16.6) 0(0) High cost, side effects 218(24.2) 171(22.7) High cost, side effects Kunming, Yunnan 0(0) 0(0) 118(13.1) 115(15.3) High cost Guiyang and Zunyi, Guizhou 8(1.9) 0(0) High cost 184(20.5) 152(20.2) High cost Nanning, Guangxi 4(1.0) 4(1.5) 173(19.2) 170(22.6) high cost Changsha, Hunan 9(2.1) 1(0.3) High cost, side effects 146(16.2) 107(14.2) Harbin, Heilongjiang 0(0) 0(0) No pilot for PrEP 6(0.7) 6(0.8) Total 417(100.0) 272(100.0) High cost, side effects 900(100.0) 753(100.0) High cost
Table 1. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) taken among men who have sex with men in the 7 study sites, China, 2018–2019.
Most PrEP (59.6%) or PEP (53.5%) users were in the 25–35 age group. A total of 68.5% (185/272) of PrEP users and 42.2% (318/753) of PEP users attended the first follow-up. Older MSM in both groups were more likely to attend the first follow-up than young MSM (Table 2). Around 10.0% (27/272) and 20.2% (152/753) of MSM attended the second follow-up for PrEP and PEP, respectively. No MSM attended the third or later follow-ups.
Age Total, n (%) Attending first follow-up p value* OR (95% CI) Yes, n (%) No, n (%) PrEP 18–24 years 37(13.6) 19(51.4) 18(48.6) 0.011 0.33(0.14–0.77) 25–35 years 162(59.6) 112(69.1) 50(30.9) 0.284 0.71(0.37–1.34) ≥36 years 71(26.1) 54(76.1) 17(23.9) Total 270(100.0) 185(68.5) 85(31.5) PEP 18–24 years 204(27.1) 65(31.9) 139(68.1) 0.001 0.47(0.31–0.74) 25–35 years 403(53.5) 181(44.9) 222(55.1) 0.326 0.83(0.57–1.21) ≥36 years 145(19.3) 72(49.7) 73(50.3) Total 752(100.0) 318(42.3) 434(57.7) Abreviation: PrEP=Pre-exposure prophylaxis; PEP=Post-exposure prophylaxis; OR=odds ratio; 95% CI=95% confidence interval.
* p values were calculated using uni-variate logistic regression, setting the independent value of age as a categorical variable.
Table 2. Attendance of first follow-up at one month after taking pre-exposure prophylaxis or post-exposure prophylaxis among men who have sex with men in the 7 study sites, China, 2018–2019.