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Amida Care Recognizes PrEP Aware Week with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and National Black Leadership Commission on Health

October 24, 2019

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis is a Crucial Component of New York State’s Blueprint to End the HIV/AIDS Epidemic by 2020

Brooklyn, NY (October 23, 2019) – On the afternoon of Wednesday, October 23rd, Amida Care, in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and the National Black Leadership Commission on Health (NBLCH) gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall with health care providers, advocates, and members of the community to support and promote PrEP Aware Week. The inaugural PrEP Aware Week, which runs from October 20 through October 26, has been organized by the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute to increase awareness and uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

“Brooklyn has become, unfortunately, the epicenter of not only the current crisis but also new infection rates. We want to be proactive in stopping the spread of AIDS and HIV by distributing information,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. “Solutions start with information and communication. In this borough alone, 30,000 of our neighbors are living with HIV, and we want to send a loud message that this does not have to be a death sentence. The conversation must start here.”

PrEP is a game-changing pill that is highly effective in preventing HIV transmission when taken daily. New York State recently announced that the number of new HIV infections was down 11% from 2017 to 2018. Increasing PrEP usage can reduce that number even further and move us closer to ending the epidemic.

“Increasing the number of New Yorkers taking PrEP is one of our greatest weapons in winning the war against HIV. As New York’s largest Medicaid Special Needs Health Plan, Amida Care has deep expertise in providing sexual health services, including our ground-breaking PrEP program.  We’re proud to join Borough President Adams, the National Black Leadership Commission on Health and the providers, community members, and advocates here today to support PrEP Aware Week. While PrEP usage is on the rise, it isn’t reaching many who are at elevated risk for HIV, particularly in black and Latinx communities. That’s why PrEP Aware Week is so important. We look forward to continuing to work to help reach the state’s goal of having 30,000 New Yorkers using PrEP by the end of 2020,” said Doug Wirth, President and CEO of Amida Care.

Brooklyn bears a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic, with more than 30,000 people living with HIV. In 2017, Brooklyn experienced 640 new HIV diagnoses, representing a 10.15% increase in new diagnoses from the previous year — making Brooklyn the only borough with an increase. Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights are among the hardest-hit neighborhoods citywide, accounting for a quarter of new diagnoses in the borough.

“It is important to point out that PrEP is for persons who are HIV-negative, in order for them to remain HIV-negative. HIV is still alive, and it is very much alive right here in the borough of Brooklyn,” said C. Virigina Fields, President and CEO, National Black Leadership Commission on Health. “We’re here because African Americans and Latinos are still disproportionately impacted. And, we are here because we want to get the message out –especially to these populations, who may have fear out of a lack of information about what PrEP is, what the costs are, and how it works – so that we can educate.”

In New York, the largest proportion of Medicaid recipients taking PrEP are white men, despite the fact that in 2017, more than 78% of new HIV diagnoses were among people of color and people of trans experience. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that doctors are less likely to talk to black and Latinx men about PrEP.

“We find out, from taking surveys, that young people actually do know about PrEP. What they don’t know about is how to walk into a doctor’s office, how to feel comfortable, where to go for a place that is safe and how does this get paid for,” said Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum of SUNY Downstate Medical Center. “People do know about PrEP but making the connection between what they know and how to get in the door is where we have a lot of work to do.”

Octavia Leona Kohner, a Brooklyn community member and member of Amida Care who uses PrEP said, “PrEP radically changed my life for the better. I can live a vivid, vibrant life, but I still need support. Some of that comes from media and culture. Some of that comes from my family, chosen or otherwise. And, an essential part of that is health care. Hormones have enabled me to fully live in my body with joy. PrEP is equally important to me.”