Awareness rises following PEP communications

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Gay men’s awareness of HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) significantly improved in Western Australia, following implementation of a communications strategy, according to a study recently published in BMC Public Health. The study is of interest as research on the impact of communication campaigns is relatively rare.

In response to data showing low awareness of non-occupational PEP in the gay community and prescription of PEP outside the guidelines, communications were delivered from May 2005 onwards. The main elements were:

  • a basic leaflet and poster on PEP for distribution via gay venues, sexual health services and partner organisations
  • advertising in the Perth gay newspaper and on the Gaydar website
  • a 24-hour phoneline, staffed by nurses
  • distribution of guidelines and related communications to health professionals.

Gay and bisexual men’s awareness of PEP was measured through the Perth Gay Community Periodic Surveys, conducted in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. Whereas in the two surveys prior to the communication strategy, only 17.2 and 23.4% of men were aware of PEP, this rose to 44.9% in 2006 and 54.9% in 2008.


post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

A month-long course of antiretroviral medicines taken after exposure or possible exposure to HIV, to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV.

However, awareness dropped in 2010 to 39.9%. The authors note that the communication channels and materials have changed very little since the campaign began. The recent results “suggest that a fresh approach should be considered, which could include opportunities to engage recent trends in social marketing, such as the use of social media”, they say.

Audit data also show an improvement in the proportion of PEP prescriptions that meet the eligibility criteria of local guidelines. In 2002 to 2005, 61.2% of prescriptions met guidelines, rising to 90.0% in 2008 to 2010 (p = <.001). Whereas PEP had previously often been prescribed to people with low-risk exposures, there has been a rise in the number of gay men taking PEP.

The authors acknowledge that other factors, in addition to the communication strategy, may have contributed to these changes.


Minas B et al. Improved awareness and appropriate use of non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP) for HIV prevention following a multi-modal communication strategy. BMC Public Health 12:906, 2012. (Click here for free access to full text.)