01.05.2013 "Break the chains" to reduce HIV infection
Gay community. Avoid all risk of infection in April and then take an HIV test in May with the partners with whom you usually have unprotected sex: this is the message of the "Break the Chains" campaign, which is being run this spring for the second time. The aim of the campaign is to break the chains of infection among men who have sex with men.
"Break the Chains" was already a success last year. 85 per cent of gay businesses in the main regions Zurich, Lausanne and Geneva took part, and the campaign app and its instructions were downloaded 6,000 times. Debriefing interviews with members of the gay community showed that HIV had not been discussed in the gay scene so openly and so often for a long time. The evaluation of the campaign also pointed out positive findings: the campaign was well understood, and 17 per cent of interviewees stated that, on account of "Break the Chains", they wanted to take an HIV test or had already done so. But what is "Break the Chains" all about?
High viral load among MSM
Gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) protect themselves against HIV to a better extent than the general population, and have themselves tested regularly. Nevertheless, there is a disproportionately high number of infections in this group. Several factors are responsible for this situation. The main problem is the first post-infection phase, the "primary HIV infection phase", during which many people are still unaware of their recent HIV infection. At this stage, their viral load is so high that they are 20–100 times more likely to transmit the virus than during the later stages of the infection. Many MSM belong to informal networks of parallel sex partners. Trustful relationships develop within these networks, i.e. the conviction that all members are HIV-negative or are being successfully treated. But if one member of such a network contracts HIV, the virus spreads rapidly throughout the entire group during the primary HIV infection phase. This threat is aggravated by the fact that, according to Gay Survey, there has in recent years been an increase in the sexual practice associated with the highest risk of infection, i.e. anal intercourse.
Breaking the chain of infection
"Break the Chains" aims to break the chains of infection within the sexual partner networks. The campaign urges MSM to avoid all risk of infection throughout the month of April and then to get tested and counselled at a Checkpoint in May, together with any sexual partners with whom they subsequently want to resume unprotected sexual relations. If there are no fresh cases of HIV infection during the period of one month, infections that have occurred previously can generally be detected and chains of infection broken. This also means that the community viral load is reduced, which lowers the likelihood of encountering anyone who, without knowing it, is in the primary infection phase.
Steven Derendinger, Prevention and Promotion Section, email@example.com