By Pablo Archila
HIV is 100% preventable. We aren’t just limited to condoms and hand jobs anymore, there’s medicine that can prevent HIV infection called PrEP. PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, is a once daily pill taken to prevent HIV infection. Think of it as the birth control for HIV. Meaning, it only works if you take it.
Deciding to get on PrEP is entirely up to you. Once you’ve decided that you want to do it, here’s how you get it. Only doctors and APRNs can prescribe PrEP. So if you have a PCP that you’re already established with, and feel comfortable with, you should go to them and have a conversation about getting on PrEP. If you don’t, find one. Whether or not you chose to get on PrEP, going to your doctor is so important, especially for queer folks who can have non-traditional health needs. Depending on where you live, finding an LGBTQ*competent physician can actually be somewhat easy, and there’s plenty of databases online for doctors sensitive to queer healthcare.
Once you have a prescription, now it’s time to get help paying for it. On its own, a one-month supply of PrEP can cost around $1,300, in addition to doctors and lab visits. Most insurances, including Medicaid, cover it. However, it may not cover all of it; here’s where Gilead, the manufactures of PrEP, can help. If you make less than about $50k a year, they should be able to cover all of it. They have a voucher, or co-pay, card that you can sign up for online at gileadadvancingaccess.com to help offset the cost, possibly at no cost to you. There are also resources if you have no insurance too.
Once you have the meds, doctors say you should wait about 2 weeks after taking it daily, to be protected by it, and have sex. You can chose to also use condoms to provide more protection, especially against other STIs, as PrEP only protects against HIV. However, studies have shown that PrEP is helping to reduce chlamydia and gonorrhea infections by up to 40%. Remember, you should be seeing your doctor and doing labs every 3-6 months while on PrEP to make sure it’s working well and not causing any health issues. PrEP does have side effects, and its long-term effects are not known completely. Talk to your doctor regularly.
Although you should take your meds every day, ideally within an hour window, missing a few doses here and there shouldn’t hinder its effectiveness. Most healthcare professionals won’t tell you this, but studies have shown that even taking it 4 times a week still provides the same protection as those who take it every day. You should still do your best to stay on track with dosing.
To sum it up:
- Decide that you want PrEP
- Find a doctor that will prescribe it to you
- Get help paying for it
- Take as directed
- Attend your follow-up appointments
VOA PrEP Guide Click link for full PDF versions of the below images.