The use of prep medication is recommended for people at risk of HIV infection (THL and WHO). In Finland, Hivpoint has been a key provider of prep information, offering prep advice to thousands of people through various channels. In 2021 and 2022, Hivpoint has conducted a survey to investigate knowledge related to the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Based on surveys, awareness of prep monitoring is insufficient
Based on both surveys, the purpose of the use of prep is relatively well known, but the monitoring related to the medication is not known to nearly as many people.
According to the results of the 2022 survey, the purpose and efficacy of prep medication in HIV prevention were relatively well known, about 76% of the respondents knew this. Also, the fact that prep protects against HIV but not against other sexually transmitted diseases was known quite well, about 79% of respondents knew about it.
Young people have less knowledge about the use of prep
Young respondents under the age of 25 had clearly less knowledge of the above-mentioned things than those aged over 25. A particularly large difference in prep knowledge between age groups was that young respondents under the age of 25 were much less aware that prep use is associated with follow-up every three months: only 26% of people under the age of 25 knew this, compared to 67% of those over 25.
More knowledge in Greater Helsinki and Uusimaa than in the rest of the country
According to the results of the survey, there are quite large regional differences in prep knowledge. While in the Helsinki metropolitan area and Uusimaa, 83% of the respondents knew what prep is used for, only about 70% of the respondents in the rest of the country knew the same. Similarly, the monitoring related to prep medication was better known in the Helsinki metropolitan area and Uusimaa (about 60% knew the matter) than in the rest of the country (where about 46% knew about it). An even clearer regional difference was that prep was known to protect only against HIV, but not against other sexually transmitted diseases: in the Helsinki metropolitan area and Uusimaa, about 90% of the respondents knew about it, while only about 68% of the respondents in the rest of the country knew it.
Reflections on the results of the survey
The fact that the knowledge of prep is better in the Helsinki metropolitan area and Uusimaa than in the rest of the country may relate to several things. Although Hivpoint’s services are aimed at the whole country, the testing and counselling services are better and more concretely reached by men who have sex with men in the Helsinki metropolitan area. The gay community is also largest and most open and visible in the Helsinki metropolitan area, and the meeting places and opportunities are most numerous there. This makes it possible to discuss the prep even better in groups of friends and within communities than in other parts of the country. In addition, prep users are most numerous in the Helsinki metropolitan area, and this certainly contributes to the fact that here we know better about prep: there are more interlocutors and experience experts to offer their support.
And what could the weaker knowledge of prep among young respondents (under the age of 25) relate to? Less participation in the communities and groups of friends may have an impact on the weaker knowledge of younger people: young people are not yet as widely involved in these communities as older ones. However, the fact that young gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men do not generally have access to suitable information on sexuality, sex and protection against sexually transmitted diseases certainly has a greater impact on the weaker knowledge among young people. For example, health education books in primary schools today mention different sexual orientations and their normality and equality, but concretely there is no advice on sexuality and sex between men.
A slight decrease in prep-related knowledge during the year may be related to demographic differences in the respondent populations. The amount of media publicity related to prep during the surveys may also have affected the results of the surveys: At the time of the first survey (in 2021), the media publicity related to the prep was more extensive than at the time of the 2022 survey, as prep was becoming free of charge in public health care. Did those who had just familiarized themselves with the topic for example on Hivpoint’s channels, respond to the 2021 survey? In any case, it would be appropriate for prep to appear in the mainstream media again, as not everyone knows how to go to Hivpoint’s website to get prep information.
Since the basic issues related to the use of prep have remained the same in recent years, I will end the article with the same words as when I wrote about it almost a year ago:
When planning to apply for prep, it is good to be aware of the follow-up related to prep medication already at that stage. In this way, you will be able to better motivate yourself to use prep according to the instruction and remember to get tested every three months. Prep effectively prevents HIV infection when the drug is used as directed and the user is committed to follow-up.
As we noted in the article published on 23rd of September, the respondents in the surveys were partly different in terms of demographic backgrounds. The difference was, for example, that in the 2022 survey there were fewer respondents, they were in relative terms more often from elsewhere than Greater Helsinki and Uusimaa, and they were also in relative terms more often aged under 25 than in the survey one year earlier. The change that has occurred during the year, a slight decrease in prep knowledge, is probably related to these factors.