A few years ago, I had an HIV scare. At the time, I knew nothing about HIV or the ways that it can be transmitted. Shortly after this scare I set up a time to meet with a health educator at my local testing site to discuss prevention options. Working together we created a plan that was simple yet effective. One of the options that we discussed was pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.
This once a day medication has helped expand the prevention options for gay and bisexual men. The pill helps to prevent HIV infection by at least 90 percent when taken daily and has an even higher rate of protection when combined with condom use. Current predictions from the CDC estimate that 1 in every 4 gay and bisexual men could benefit from use of PrEP.
I decided to begin using PrEP nine months ago when I came to UNC. PrEP has been a good addition to the ways in which I protect myself against HIV. Initially, issues around availability, cost, and adherence made PrEP seem like an unlikely option. However, these concerns were addressed using online and local tools and resources available in North Carolina.
PrEP is widely available throughout the Triangle area. This interactive map, created through UNC’s School of Medicine, helps both providers and patients identify PrEP providers throughout the state. On campus, I was able to simply talk with my primary care provider at the Student Health Center about my sexual health and interest in PrEP. My provider ordered a couple of blood tests, wrote me a prescription and sent me on my way. For students with insurance through UNC, the prescription is filled by a specialty pharmacy that delivers the medication directly to your home.
I initially thought cost would be one of the largest barriers, but found that PrEP payment assistance programs are available and may help to cover the cost of the medication. These programs are designed to help make PrEP more affordable and accessible for people with and without insurance. Originally, the prescription would have cost $30 with student insurance, but after co-pay assistance program was applied, the medication was free.
Lastly, daily adherence to this medication is key to its effectiveness. Users must take the pill at a similar time each day for successful use. I have found it helpful to set simple reminders or use apps that signal when to take my medication.
The introduction of PrEP has revolutionized the options that gay and bisexual men have to protect themselves against HIV. I share my experience using PrEP as a way to start a conversation on how to connect to resources and craft your own HIV prevention plan using the resources in your community.
-Ryan Drab, NCAAN intern