In this video, Pacific Pride Foundation’s LGBTQ program manager, Patrick Lyra Lanier, discusses the importance of PrEP among Santa Barbara’s community.
PrEP, an acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a general term for the prescription Truvada. As explained by Lanier, PrEP is a “once-daily pill” that works as a preventative measure for the contraction of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The medication acts as a barrier within the body, building antibodies to protect from the contraction of HIV. It serves as a way for both cisgendered heterosexuals and LGBTQ folks to practice safe sex with a lessened worry of contracting the virus.
People taking the pill are required to have quarterly checkups with a medical professional that consist of STI (sexually transmitted infection) testing, as well as tests on the kidneys to ensure proper function. There are very few side effects from the medication.
Prior to PrEP, preventive measures for HIV existed as only “condom usage and some folks abstaining from certain kinds of sex, and neither of those are enough,” said Lanier. “This medication now serves as an important tool in one’s sexual safety toolkit.”
Although PrEP serves as a pivotal tool in one’s relationship with HIV, it “does not protect against other STIs,” said Lanier, and therefore, “you want to make sure you’re being safe in other ways with condom adherence and usage so that you don’t expose yourself to gonorrhea, syphilis, and other STIs.”
Alongside the lessened chance of contracting HIV, up to 99 percent if taken daily, the medication also helps people who are HIV positive by lessening the amount of antibodies within one’s body to bring them to an “undetectable” level. As described by Lanier, “If someone is HIV positive, [and] their viral load is undetectable, meaning that there is a miniscule amount of virus in their blood, they can’t transmit it.” This process is referred to as U=U, meaning “undetectable is untransmittable.”
When discussing the medication, a few barriers prevail, the first being stigma. “Folks perceive PrEP mistakenly as partaking in risky sexual behavior,” said Lanier. “However, the Centers for Disease Control does say that if any person has two or more partners and is sexually active, they should be on PrEP.”
As well as stigma, the cost of the medication stands at the forefront of concerns, as the uninsured price exists at roughly $1,800. However, solutions do exist, including a copay assistance program for insured patients through the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead. With Gilead’s copay assistance program, as well as the use of insurance, such as Medi-Cal and Medicaid, which are required to cover the prescription, some folks are able to get the medication with no out-of-pocket cost.
Though Pacific Pride Foundation cannot prescribe PrEP, they can serve as a referral tool for primary physicians as well as Planned Parenthood Central California.
The foundation also offers a wide range of resources, including LBGTQ youth outreach and support, LGBTQ elder support, counseling services, free and anonymous rapid HIV and hepatitis C testing, syringe exchange, and harm-reduction coaching.
For more information on PrEP and sexual safety resources, contact Pacific Pride Foundation at (805) 963-3636 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The center also takes walk-ins at its Santa Barbara headquarters (608 Anacapa St.) and Santa Maria office (123 S. College Dr.).