Be PrEP-ared

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Pill to prevent HIV, when taken in time

Whitney Sides
Blazer News

In 2015, it was estimated that there are 12,316 people living with HIV in Alabama, according to AIDSVu. Birmingham clinics are now encouraging groups that are at risk to HIV to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a pill to prevent HIV contraction when taken in time.

 “I think it’s incredibly useful for college students to learn about PrEP and what it can do,” said Kachina Kudroff, the PrEP Clinic Manager at the UAB 1917 HIV Outpatient Clinic. “Just the extreme uptick in students seeking sexual health services at Student Health indicates to me how necessary these conversations are.”  PrEP is consumed in a drug called Truvada, and was approved by the FDA in 2012. Education around the subject, Kudroff said, has been an obstacle to getting the word out about this drug and how it can help more individuals than people realize.



“PrEP, research shows, can be beneficial to anyone who is sexually active” said Christa DeVaughn, director of Special Initiatives and Continual Education at Magic City Wellness Center, a clinic that works with Birmingham AIDS Outreach and offers catered care to the local LGBTQ community. “PrEP, research shows, can be beneficial to anyone who is sexually active” said Christa DeVaughn, director of Special Initiatives and Continual Education at Magic City Wellness Center, a clinic that works with Birmingham AIDS Outreach and offers catered care to the local LGBTQ community. DeVaughn said that certain groups are more at risk to get the virus. “Two groups statistically who are most heavily affected by HIV currently are men of color having sex with men, MSM of color,” DeVaughn said. “BAO [Birmingham Aids Outreach] and Magic City Wellness Center don’t like to use labels. People identify in many different ways, so those categories just allow us to be as technical as possible, in order to fit as many people as possible who might fall into that category for treatment purposes.” DeVaughn said that men of color who have sex with men, between ages 13 and 14 have the highest volume of HIV infection.  Heterosexual, black women are currently contracting HIV at the fastest rate, DeVaughn said. They don’t have the most cases right now, but that group is getting sicker faster than any other group she said. “People in those two groups should absolutely seek PrEP and we do focus our program education on them a lot,” DeVaughn said. 

Kudroff said a big problem in HIV prevention is the stigma of conversations regarding intimacy. “People are afraid of sex,” Kudroff said. “People always have external or internal criticisms like ‘why didn’t you wear a condom’ or ‘why didn’t you just ask your partner their status.’

There’s a lot of unneeded victim blaming.”  Tony Christon-Walker, Director of Prevention and Community Partnerships at AIDS Alabama and is working to opening  an AIDS Alabama’s pilot PrEP clinic this summer, said that stigma is the “main barrier to seeking the medication.” When PrEP first came out, the prevailing stigma was the same as it was with birth control back in the day,” Christon-Walker said. “People think of it as a promiscuous drug. Untrue. It works as prevention. Period.” Christon-Walker said that every physician in Alabama should be prescribing the drug.  “Because of internalized and externalized homophobia, a patient might get hit with inappropriate and questions from their doctor like ‘why don’t you just wear a condom,” Christon-Walker said. 

“That is not how someone’s first experience with taking control of their own health should be”  DeVaughn said she wants the general public to realize that PrEP can and should be taken by anyone who is sexual active. “PrEP is for everybody,” DeVaughn said. “It is useful if you have sex with many partners or who are with a non-exclusive partner. It’s useful if you’re in any number of what we consider exclusive relationships. No one is with their partner 24 hours a day, and so you can never be 100 percent sure of their sexual activity. PrEP can protect you from getting HIV in any way. Altogether. If it exists, why take the risk anymore.”

 For those without insurance, Jefferson County Department of Health offers PrEP on scale or based on how you can afford to pay. AIDS Alabama’s soon to be opened clinic hopes to cover PrEP prescriptions as well as the lab work that’s required every 3 months while on the drug.  Gilead, offers a prescription assistance plan. If you are eligible, the co-pay coupon card covers up to $7,200 in co-pays per year with no monthly limit for PrEP. For some people, that could mean paying as little as a $0 co-pay.  For those interested in learning more about PrEP, Student Health offers PrEP as well as a wide range of Sexual Health care and every visit is strictly confidential, meaning parents are never told of why students seek care. 

“We have so much work to do,” Christon-Walker said. “It is almost like we haven’t even started. Lack of access, affordability for rural folks of color, busting these ridiculous stigmas.”

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UAB Student Media is the home of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s student-run media outlets. They include Kaleidoscope , an award-winning weekly newspaper; BlazeRadio, our 24-hour online radio station live on the TuneIn app; Aura, a much-heralded literary arts magazine; and UABTV, original, web-based video programming. UAB students operate all media. The articles, posts, newscasts and opinions are solely those of its student writers, producers, editors, deejays, etc. and do not reflect that of the university, its administrators or the Student Media advisors.


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