PrEP Prevents Black People From Falling Prey To A Healthcare System Which Has Historically Neglected Them

"PrEP has been targeted at gay white men, point blank period."

Photo Credit: Photo: NIAID

| July 17 2018,

03:03 am

When I’m not gallivanting the streets with #BlackGirlMagic, Namaste-ing or listening to Gucci Mane, I work as a clinical researcher for HIV related studies and implement health outreach and education in the community. 

There’s this pretty blue pill called PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, that can be taken daily to prevent HIV. Condoms are ideal, but let’s be real and nonjudgmental because life happens. The medication is actually called Truvada, which is an HIV medication that has been used since 2004 to treat the infection. Researchers found if taken before infection it could actually prevent someone from acquiring the disease altogether. If taken correctly, it can reduce HIV infection by up to 92 percent. PrEP has been on the market since 2012. It is 2017 and most people, including providers, still don’t know what PrEP is and don't recommend it to those at risk.

PrEP has been targeted at gay white men, point blank period. In the last two years, there has been more effort to expand health outreach to include MSM of color (men who have sex with men) and African American women in certain cities. Little grant money is given toward the efforts of health communication and program expansion. If there is money, most of these campaigns targeted towards people of color lack an actual person of color in the room when the decisions are made. So basically, white liberals are creating health messages targeted towards black and brown people. What is the problem with this, you ask, outside of the very obvious racism, systemic oppression and overall foolishness?  In 2015, African Americans had the highest rates of new HIV infections across all ages and sexes. African Americans are the largest group living with HIV/AIDS in the US, period. The messages are not being relayed well.

Should black people be mad? HELL. YES. Tuskegee isn’t the first or the last incidence of black health abuse. Any major health devastation or disparity in the United States can be broken down into either race, gender or poverty. HIV is not something created by the government, the science proves that, but I can say with confidence the government isn’t helping with the problem. Outside of President Obama’s efforts towards HIV prevention amongst MSM of color, the government spends more on HIV/AIDS related aid to foreign countries than it does to any state in the United States. And because Donald Trump has no understanding of anything outside of Twitter, he plans to cut funding for all HIV/AIDS funding by billions in 2018. This would cut funding for all prevention and treatment in the United States and abroad (y'all, it's only been 8 months). PrEP can also be used for IV drug use as well. With the opioid epidemic, I foresee it playing a huge role. 

Major metropolitan areas get the most funding for HIV/AIDS related programming, but their communities of color still have rates of infection 3 to 4 times that of their white counterparts. Washington, D.C. is one the richest cities in the nation and one of the most progressive in HIV prevention and treatment. PrEP is readily available throughout most of the city, except Ward 7 and 8, the poorest and blackest areas of the city. These areas still have the have the highest incidence of new infections. Because gentrification is very real, those in traditionally African American areas of the city are being forced out, voluntarily or involuntarily, and moving to locations that do not have the same capacity to manage HIV/AIDS as Washington, D.C. does. Atlanta, Miami, Houston, New York City, L.A., New Orleans—name any city with a large black population, and there will be a large disparity in HIV/AIDS. Mississippi. I’m from Mississippi, my whole family still lives there . Mississippi has their own HIV epidemic that is mirroring mortality rates not seen since the early '80s.

Why is this important for black people? People lie often. Data doesn’t.

All that to say, there’s a pill that can prevent HIV if taken correctly. It is pretty cool and effective.

• PrEP is expensive, but most health insurances cover most of the cost. If not Gilead, the creators of Truvada, have a program that will help an individual get the medication.

• It does require follow-ups every three to six months and blood work to continuously check for HIV infection, other STIs and bone density.

• PrEP also works differently in males and women. Men can get away with taking the medication four to six times per week, although seven is recommended and highly encouraged for optimal effectiveness. Women must take it seven days a week with no missed doses for it to be effective.

• If taken correctly, it can reduce HIV infection by up to 92 percent.

• Truvada is the only pill for PrEP use on the market now, but there are new drugs being studied for PrEP, which is really, really exciting. With newer drugs coming on the market, the older drugs will become cheaper and more affordable. 

So, what if you’ve had contact with someone and you’re not sure of their status? Then you have the option to take PEP, which is Post Exposure Prophylaxis. Like the morning after pill, it can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex and requires a 30 day regiment of HIV medications. But HIV transmission is rare.

I think what's important and unique about the HIV/AIDS epidemic among the African American community, is that it's not only happening to those that unfairly carry the stigma of the disease in our community (poor, gay, sexually promiscuous or uneducated), that's foolish to believe. There are very straight, educated, wealthy and monogamous individuals with HIV/AIDS, as well, being diagnosed just as often. HIV/AIDS is a risk to all of us, regardless of gender, class or orientation.