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A Pill a Day to Keep HIV Away

May 5, 2016

Image from CDC Vital Signs with 3 statistics on PrEP: Daily PrEP can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. Daily PrEP can reduce the risk of getting HIV among people who inject drugs by more than 70%. 1 in 3 primary care doctors and nurses haven't heard about PrEP.

Up to 1.8 million Americans are eligible for a new generation of drugs that could prevent them from getting HIV/AIDS. But many doctors and nurses don’t know it exists – three years after the medications became generally available.

Known as PrEP, for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, the new drugs are up to 90 percent effective  in preventing infection among those most at risk: men who have sex with men; IV drug users; and partners of people living with the disease.

"PrEP isn’t reaching many people who could benefit from it,” says Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC, because “many providers remain unaware of its promise. With about 40,000 HIV infections newly diagnosed each year in the U.S., we need to use all available prevention strategies."

With that, HRSA has established a new agency-wide PrEP Work Group headed by RADM Deborah Parham Hopson, Senior Health Advisor to the Administrator.

“With thousands of health professionals in service, in training, or on staff through our programs,” she said, “we are uniquely positioned to get the word out about PrEP and help to advance the President’s goal of an AIDS-Free Generation.

“Much like oral medications to prevent other chronic conditions, we have an opportunity here to have a major impact through a relatively common-sense public health measure.”

Formed in December, the group is now designing messaging, training and technical assistance for HRSA grantees and staff (CDC infographics on PrEP).

On-going publicity campaigns and outreach to clinicians in New York and California over the past three years are believed to have increased the use of the common PrEp drug Truvada.

Nationally, however, the CDC estimates that as many as one out of 3 providers simply aren’t aware the medication exists.

The agency announced in March that it is awarding $125 million over three years to state and local health departments, in part, to expand use of PrEP among men who have sex with men. Those awards come on the heels of $216 million that the CDC granted last summer to 90 community-based organizations nationwide to increase access to PrEP prevention and support services over five years.

One of those grantees is HRSA-supported Chase Brexton Health Services of Maryland – with nine integrated health center sites throughout the greater Baltimore area that also provide Ryan White services. In 2014, Chase Brexton served more than 27,000 patients -- nearly 10 percent living with HIV/AIDS.

As part of its PrEP campaign, the health center is recruiting committed couples in the gay community as navigators and mentors to encourage others to get screened and use the new daily supplements.

In a recent visit to HRSA, Chase Brexton Grants Manager Jackie Adams said that of 2,693 patients in the center’s care with HIV, 86 percent are virally suppressed – nearly meeting the goal set by the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

Date Last Reviewed:  July 2017