How can Bloomington residents access PrEP for HIV prevention?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a daily antiviral pill prescribed to HIV-negative adolescents and adults who are at risk of getting HIV if they are exposed to the virus. The medication is highly effective when taken as indicated, reducing the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% and from injecting drugs by at least 74%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among those who could benefit from using the drug are gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, heterosexual men and women who have high-risk exposure, transgender women and people who inject drugs.
“It is recommended for anyone that is currently HIV negative and has a sexual partner with HIV and/or does not consistently use condoms with sex and/or has been diagnosed with another STI in the past 6 months,” said Beth Rupp, M.D., the medical director of the IU Health Center and a physician who specializes in family medicine. “It is also recommended for people who inject drugs with shared needles.”
Approximately 1.1 million Americans are considered at risk for HIV and candidates for PrEP, yet only 90,000 PrEP prescriptions were filled in commercial pharmacies between 2015 and 2016. Further, CDC researchers found that while two-thirds of people who could benefit from PrEP are Black or Latino, they account for the smallest percentage of prescriptions.
Discrimination, stigma, cost and mistrust of the healthcare system have led to these pervasive disparities in HIV prevention and treatment, particularly for Black and Latino men who have sex with men, Black women and transgender women.
Similarly, there are about 1.2 million Americans currently living with HIV. About 14% of people with HIV are unaware they have it, indicating severe disparities among HIV prevention and treatment strategies.
Other barriers to prevention and treatment include lack of individual awareness about HIV or PrEP, lack of access to providers who are knowledgeable about PrEP, cost of medical care, stigma or concern that parents or friends might find out they are using PrEP, Rupp said.
Students who are interested in starting PrEP can make an appointment with one of the medical providers who prescribes this medication at the Student Health Center. Students can call 812-855-7688 to schedule an appointment for PrEP.
Not all physicians and nurse practitioners at the Health Center are trained to prescribe PrEP, so it’s important to call to make an appointment to get in with the appropriate medical provider.
For the broader Bloomington community, IU Health Positive Link operates a weekly primary care and PrEP clinic at its Bloomington location, including telehealth services. All services are provided free of cost to the client and are available to any HIV-positive individual.
Positive Link takes a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention and care, providing PrEP navigation, HIV testing, education and individual case management to clients. It also offers three options for testing: in-office by appointment, private at-home testing and weekly drive-up testing from 2-6 p.m. on Mondays at its Bloomington location.
If you are interested in any of these options, you can contact Positive Link at 812-353-3169.
Sophomore Evan Theis is a Peer Health and Wellness Educator and co-president of the Sexual Health Advocacy Group. He said it’s important to maintain your status as HIV-negative, which means knowing your status, getting tested frequently and using condoms in addition to using PrEP if you are prescribed it.
He also stressed the importance of increasing HIV awareness and advocacy in our community.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about it,” Theis said. “Everybody knows someone who can benefit from PrEP. Start that conversation because it’s worth it.”
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Peyton Jeffers (she/they) is a senior studying human development and family studies and human sexuality. She is a member of Camp Kesem at Indiana University.