An enormous a part of Washington, D.C.’s plan to get its HIV fee down is to get extra uninfected individuals on PrEP, a two-medicine mixture tablet that’s bought beneath the model identify Truvada.
When taken each day by people who find themselves at excessive danger for contracting HIV by way of intercourse or shared needles with somebody who’s contaminated, this pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, can lower the danger of HIV an infection by 92 p.c, research present.
PrEP has been round for years now, however solely a small portion of these at excessive danger for HIV an infection use it, partly as a result of many nonetheless don’t realize it exists. The drugs can be fairly costly, priced at $1,600 for a month’s provide. It is normally coated by insurance coverage, together with Medicaid.
To lower the speed of latest infections in half by 2020, D.C. well being officers estimate town might want to greater than quadruple the variety of residents who’re on PrEP. The division of well being and group teams are pulling out all of the stops to lift consciousness.
“Thinking about sex? Then think about PrEP,” one public well being industrial says, over video clips of a girl sensually licking an ice cream cone, or a person stroking a golf membership. You get the gist.
There are additionally social media pushes, and an advert marketing campaign referred to as “PrEP for Her” concentrating on African-American girls, who, together with homosexual and bisexual African-American males, are at excessive danger of an infection within the district.
At a current convention within the metropolis on LGBTQ points, Sarah Fleming stopped by the PrEP info desk put collectively by Luis Felipe Cebas of Whitman-Walker Health, a group well being heart that focuses on offering care to LGBTQ sufferers.
Fleming advised Cebas she’s stunned she had by no means heard of PrEP. She even received examined for HIV not too long ago.
“They told me nothing about this!” she stated. “I was negative — but, I feel like, it’s a preventative, so you should tell people about it.”
Gregorio Millett, vp and director of public coverage on the Foundation for AIDS Research, stated some well being care suppliers don’t point out PrEP due to their mistaken perception that it will enhance dangerous sexual habits; analysis hasn’t proven that to be the case.
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Millett added that there are different the explanation why individuals — particularly individuals of coloration — haven’t requested PrEP as a lot as he and different public well being officers would really like. Some African-Americans mistrust the medical group due to historic mistreatment, he stated. And there’s nonetheless a stigma hooked up to HIV, particularly in some minority communities.
“In order to be prescribed PrEP, you need to be ‘out’ to your provider,” Millett stated. “And we see that for African-American men, as well as for Latino gay men, they’re less likely to tell their providers that they are gay or bisexual.”
Several cities throughout the U.S. — together with Seattle, Boston and San Francisco, in addition to Washington — are making concerted efforts to beat these challenges and promote PrEP as a software for lowering HIV transmission, Millett stated.
There are indicators of progress in Washington. Whitman-Walker Health has seen a current uptick in new PrEP sufferers, together with 28-year-old Ricardo Cooper, who lives within the district.
Cooper is homosexual and HIV-negative. He’s been taking PrEP for a number of months, and stated he hasn’t skilled many unwanted side effects, which may generally embody complications, nausea and cramping. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these unwanted side effects are likely to go away over time.
Cooper stated taking the drug provides him peace of thoughts.
“It just makes me feel so much better about engaging in sexual activity,” he stated, figuring out that he received’t get or transmit HIV to a companion.
He additionally has discovered he now talks extra brazenly about HIV, which nonetheless carries numerous stigma amongst his pals. He stated he even walks as much as individuals at bars and sells them on PrEP.
“The professionals can’t really force PrEP on people, but I can,” he chuckled. “And I’ve done that to my friends. It’s like, ‘You don’t have an option.’”
Cooper stated, turning severe, that he’s normally a non-public individual however that to him that is essential — he needs to do all the pieces he can to unfold the phrase.
“If I need to be the face of PrEP for this African-American community or the communities that are underrepresented — to let them know that, ‘It’s OK, it’s cool, I mean, you should at least try it,’ then I’m perfectly fine with stepping out of myself and doing that,” he stated.
Health suppliers say this sort of group evangelism — together with the bus adverts and attractive commercials — might be key to reaching the final word objective of ending the HIV epidemic in Washington, D.C.
This story is a part of NPR’s reporting partnership with Kaiser Health News.
Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR: @selenasd