#BlackSexualHealthMatters: Understanding The Role of PrEP In HIV Prevention

woman serious ponytail

For the past two months the hashtag #BlackSexualHealthMatters has been a major push of the National Coalition for Sexual Health (NCSH) and the campaign couldn’t come at a greater time. The NCSH, which consists of over 50 leading health and medical organizations, issued a call-to-action to increase the use of essential preventive sexual health care services in the Black community. Backed by the CDC and several other health organizations across the nation, the NCSH has been monitoring the newly found cases of HIV arising in the African American community and the numbers are staggering. It is estimated that 1 in 16 Black men and 1 in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV yearly, yet more than a third of the African American community has never been tested for the virus.

It appears that most of the newly diagnosed are contracting the virus unknowingly from partners that are unaware of their status, but for the couple that is aware of the positive status of one partner, there is a way to prevent the spread of HIV to an uninfected partner along with condom usage thanks to the use of PrEP (short for Pre-exposure prophylaxis).

Approved by the FDA in July of 2012 as a result of rigorous testing that has proved effective in preventing the spread of HIV to an unaffected partner if used regularly along with condoms,  the pill Truvada (brand name) is a viable option for the at risk.

There is a great deal of information that the general public hasn’t yet adopted about the PrEP but NCSH member and executive director of Project Inform Dana Van Gorder has all of the knowledge down to a science. I had the chance to speak with Van Gorder about the benefits and side effects of PrEP, as well as the information one should share with their health care provider about this new form of HIV prevention.

If you are an individual at risk for HIV contraction or know someone who is at risk, take a look at Dana Van Gorder’s advice on how to prevent the spread of HIV and support the #BlackSexualHealthMatters campaign by educating yourself and getting tested.

MUST READ: #Woman2Woman HIV Campaign Gets Black Women Talking & Tested

Facts about HIV prevention and PrEP the public should be aware of:

“The world doesn’t currently have a vaccine to prevent HIV infection, although much work is being done to create one. But there are extremely effective ways to avoid getting HIV – and for HIV-positive people to pass it to others. Using condoms consistently for intercourse continues to be one proven way. HIV-negative people are recommended to use them with an HIV-positive partner, or a partner whose HIV status they aren’t 100 percent sure about.”

“Here is another way of preventing HIV:  HIV-positive people are able to greatly lengthen their lives, AND can be up to 96 percent less likely to infect their partners, if they know their status and are effectively treated for HIV.  That means taking HIV medications on a daily basis, as prescribed, and fully suppressing the virus. This is why the Obama administration is leading a major effort to make sure that everyone is tested for HIV, and that HIV-positive people are actively engaged in medical care and treatment.”

“But one other VERY exciting and effective new way to prevent HIV that all sexually active people should know about – especially black men who have sex with other men, and black women – is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP. PrEP involves having an HIV-negative person take a medication called Truvada every day in order to prevent getting HIV. Studies have shown that, when taken every day, PrEP can be up to 92 percent effective in preventing HIV.”

“PrEP may not be for everyone.  But it can definitely help a lot of people who are working to stay HIV-negative.  Truvada does have some side effects, but for most people they are pretty minor. Doing it as recommended includes seeing a medical provider every three months to make sure you are tolerating it and that it is working for you.”

“It’s important to know that many public and private insurers WILL cover the cost of PrEP.  And, the company that makes Truvada, Gilead Sciences, has programs to provide free medication if someone doesn’t have another way to pay for it.”

“Another thing to know about PrEP is that people who can benefit from using it have every right to choose it. Sometimes family, friends or medical professionals argue that everyone can and should use a condom every time. But that’s not always that easy to do.  Truvada has been approved by the FDA, and the Obama administration has recommended that people at risk for getting HIV consider using it. Anyone who IS thinking about it and decides to DO it should stick up for themselves. It’s not bad to be on PrEP.”