Preventing HIV with VOA FIT is easy: Safe sex, PrEP

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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. Doctors, APRNs, physicians assistants and some pharmacist 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 or reach out to your local pharmacy or VOA FIT on where to go.

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. There are also resources if you have no insurance too.

Most likely you have seen or heard something around lawsuits or medical issues with PrEP. Well with Truvada there have actually been links to declined kidney functioning and decrease in bone density. While these issues are rare, your medical provider should be monitoring you to be sure they don’t become problematic. On the flip side, Truvada is no longer the only PrEP game in town. Descovy is a new HIV prevention medication option.  It has the same effectiveness with less side effects and is being recommended as the preferred option of PrEP.

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 and sager sex practices 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. These labs also include STI screenings. PrEP does have side effects, and its long-term effects are not known completely. 

To sum it up:

  1. Decide that you want PrEP
  2. Find a doctor or healthcare provider that will prescribe it to you
  3. Get help paying for it
  4. Take as directed
  5. Attend your follow-up appointments
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