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Could easier access to AIDS treatment increase risky sexual behaviors?

Damien de Walque's picture

By the end of 2009, an estimated 5.2 million people in low- and middle-income countries received antiretroviral therapy (ART). In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 37% [34%–40%] of people eligible for treatment had access to those life-saving medicines (UNAIDS 2010). This is an extraordinary achievement, considering that as recently as 2003, relatively few people living with HIV/AIDS had access to ART in Africa. The scaling-up of ART in Africa and other regions has saved the lives of countless people and we hope will continue to do so.

 At the same time, access to HIV/AIDS treatment might have transformed the perception of AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable, chronic condition, not necessarily different from any other chronic disease. Such a change in perception could lead to change in sexual behaviors. If AIDS is not perceived as a killer disease anymore, it might induce complacency and increase risky behaviors and the mixing between higher- and lower-risk groups in the population. That’s what has been described as the “disinhibition” hypothesis.