Preventing HIV with a Pill

November 12, 2019 • by Dallin Mello

Pacific Pride Foundation’s LGBTQ Program Manager, Patrick Lyra Lanier, discusses the importance of PrEP amongst Santa Barbara’s community.

PrEP, an acronym for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a general term for the prescription Truvada. As explained by Lanier, PrEP is a “once daily pill that” that works as a preventative measure for the contraction of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The medication acts as a barrier within the body as it builds antibodies to protect from the contraction of HIV. It serves as a way for both cisgendered-heterosexuals and LGBTQ folks to practice safe sex with a lessened worry of contracting the virus.

Maintenance for the medication requires quarterly check ups with a medical professional that consist of STI testing, as well as tests on the kidney to ensure proper function. There are very few side effects from the medication.

Prior to the implementation of the medication, preventive measures for HIV existed as only “condom usage and some folks abstaining from certain kinds of sex, and neither of those are enough,” said Lanier, “this medication now serves as an important tool in one’s sexualy safety tool kit.”

Although PrEP serves as a pivotal tool in one’s relationship with HIV, it “does not protect against other STI’s” describes Lanier, therefore “you want to make sure you’re being safe in other ways with condom adherence and usage so that you don’t expose yourself to gonorrea, syphilis, and other STI’s.”

Alongside the lessened chance of contracting HIV, up to 99% if taken daily, the medication also helps people who are HIV positive by lessening the amount of antibodies within one’s body to bring them to an “undetectable” level. As described by Lanier, “If someone is HIV positive, [and] their viral load is undetectable, meaning that there is a miniscule amount of virus in their blood, they can’t transmit it.” This process is referred to as U=U, meaning “undetectable is untransmittable.”

When discussing the medication there are a few barriers that prevail, the first being stigma. “Folks perceive PrEP mistakenly as partaking in risky sexual behavior,” said Lanier, “however the centers for disease control does say that if any person has two or more partners and is sexually active they should be on PrEP.”

As well as stigma, the cost of the medication stands at the forefront of concerns, as the uninsured price exists at roughly $1,800. However, solutions do exist through the maker of the medication’s copay assistance program for insured patients. With Gilead’s copay assistance program, as well as the use of insurance, such as Medical and Medicaid which are required to cover the prescription, some folks are able to pay as little as nothing to attain the medication.

In getting on PrEP, the Pacific Pride Foundation cannot prescribe the medication, however they can serve as a referral tool for primary physicians as well as Planned Parenthood Central California to do so.

The foundation also offers a wide range of resources, including but not limited to: LBGTQ youth outreach and support, LGBTQ elder support, counseling services, free and anonymous rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing, syringe exchange, as well as harm reduction coaching.

For more information on PrEP and sexual safety resources, the Pacific Pride Foundation can be contacted by phone at 805-963-3636 or by email at hello@pacificpridefoundation.org. The center also takes walk-ins both within their Santa Barbara headquarters at 608 Anacapa Street or their Santa Maria office at 123 S College Drive.

View the published story on the Santa Barbara Inpendent's website here.

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