Monday, July 28, 2014
A recent piece of research claims to find that mass male circumcision programs do not result in 'risk compensation', the idea that some HIV interventions can result in an increase in 'risky' behavior, such as sex without condoms. Happily for those aggressively promoting mass male circumcision, they say they found no evidence of risk behavior. Whether they found evidence that it doesn't occur, rather than failing to find evidence that it does occur, is another matter.
Similar research into the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the use of HIV drugs before some kind of exposure to HIV, such as through sexual intercourse with a HIV positive person, also found no evidence of 'risk compensation', although this research was carried out in the US; PrEP is more of a rich person's intervention at the moment.
And a meta-analysis of "every study that has looked at the sexual behaviour of people after starting HIV treatment" has found no evidence of 'risk compensation'. Most of the studies took place in African countries. These results must have found a welcoming audience at the HIV industry's annual back-slapping event that has just finished in Melbourne.
But these findings may suggest something very significant that the researchers have not mentioned: perhaps HIV positive people are nowhere near as promiscuous, careless and uncaring as they are depicted as being by the HIV industry thus far.
It is not known what proportion of HIV transmission is a result of sexual intercourse and what proportion is a result of other modes of transmission, such as exposure to contaminated medical instruments, unsafe cosmetic or traditional practices.
The assumption that most transmission is a result of sex is a prejudice, rather than an empirical finding. The assumption that transmission through various non-sexual routes is low is a result of not looking for evidence that would demonstrate such transmission and ignoring any evidence that comes to light, which it usually does inadvertently.
Those promoting mass male circumcision and other revenue streams do seem to be inordinately blessed when it comes to finding 'evidence' that the intervention is safe, acceptable, effective and worthy of the hundreds of millions that has been spent, and the billions that has been earmarked for moving from adult and child circumcision to include infant circumcision, the latter being a far more sustainable proposition.
Now that so much money can be made from various mass HIV drug administration strategies, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, early treatment, treatment as prevention, treating HIV positive pregnant women for life (as opposed to a shorter course of treatment), etc, it seems unlikely that any of the big funders will wish to put much money into finding out how people in high prevalence countries are infected in the first place, and aiming to prevent such infections from occurring.
Of course, like infant circumcision, allowing a substantial number of people to continue to be infected with HIV is far more sustainable than aiming for the industry's claimed goal of virtually eliminating HIV by 2030. A steady stream of new infections from the worst epidemics should keep the industry afloat for at least a few more decades, and perhaps even ensure their survival for the rest of the century.