Very few gay men are aware of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication like Truvada® as an available method of reducing the risk of Contracting HIV. A new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that only four in 10 gay and bisexual men in Baltimore who are HIV negative are aware of PrEP. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Past studies have proven that if taken daily, PrEP can reduce the risk of getting HIV by 92 percent even in men who have unprotected sex with men. In fact, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it for men having sex with men. Unfortunately, only five percent of people at risk of getting HIV have taken PrEP since it was approved PrEP in 2012.
STD Testing Does Not Increase PrEP Awareness
The study was conducted in 2014 using Baltimore MSM National HIV Behavioural Surveillance data. The study had a total of 401 HIV-negative participants. Only 42 percent of the participants were aware of PrEP. The study found that even though 82 percent had seen a doctor for STD testing in the prior year, this did not increase their likelihood of knowing about PrEP. Only those who had gone for HIV testing were more likely to know about PrEP.
The study also found that when the study participants were made aware of PrEP and likened it to a birth control pill that would be taken daily to prevent HIV, 60 percent of them said they were willing to take PrEP to prevent HIV.
Black People at Greater Risk Because of Less Aware of PrEP
The study also found that more black participants were unaware of PrEP compared to caucasian participants. The researchers feel that this is troubling because according to the numbers, one of every two gay black men is at risk of getting HIV in their lifetimes.
According to the study, many healthcare providers don’t discuss PrEP, even when handling high-risk gay or bisexual patients as those who have been tested for other sexually transmitted diseases. According to the CDC, this is because a third of physicians are not aware that PrEP is an option.
The researchers insist that physicians need to make it a point to discuss HIV risks and explore whether PrEP is a good option to increase the access and use of PrEP. The advantage of PrEP is that it has mild side effects compared to other drugs. Common side effects include mild nausea and fatigue. This will likely go away after the first month.
Increased Education among Doctors Necessary
The researchers added that while PrEP can be a lifesaver, a lot of barriers are preventing access and use of the therapy. One of the biggest challenges is high cost. There are, however, programs that pay for the costs of PrEP but patients will only know this if their doctors are also aware.
It’s important that doctors and patients are educated about PrEP to increase its use. The researchers suggest creating a full-scale education program for physicians education program. This could include designing guidelines to increase awareness and encourage the right use of PrEP, conference training and publishing in journals.
PrEP can be a life safer, however, increased awareness is necessary especially among high-risk groups. Healthcare providers are the best persons to educate and provide preventive options such as the use of PrEP and HIV PEP and therefore need to be part of the awareness campaign.
Getting The Right Information
In the context of Singapore, more efforts should be made by the public healthcare system to spread awareness on how HIV is spread, what are the HIV symptoms to look out for like fatigue and swollen lymph nodes, and what are the more advanced preventive methods like PEP and PrEP beyond the basics like condom usage as well as abstinence.