PrEP Aware Week: Jumpstarting PrEP Usage to End the HIV Epidemic
October 14 2021
PrEP Aware Week in New York State runs from Monday, October 25, through Sunday, October 31, a time to ensure that all New Yorkers are able to learn about and access PrEP, a game-changing treatment that has proven to be 99 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission. Because of challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was recently reported that PrEP utilization dropped for the first time since New York State began tracking the data. PrEP usage is critical to getting back on track in ending the epidemic in New York, especially among populations most deeply affected by HIV—particularly communities of color and LGBTQ communities, including women of color and transgender women. This year’s PrEP Aware Week theme is “My PrEP, My___”, where each person fills in the blank space of a word that is important to them when thinking about PrEP. This theme emphasizes the many diverse communities and individuals who should consider and have access to PrEP.
During the past several months, Amida Care co-hosted a series of virtual events “All About PrEP” with the NEW Pride Agenda, focusing on populations such as gay and bisexual men, youth, people of transgender experience, and women of color; and localities including Upper Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Additionally, Amida Care recently published a blog post for National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day highlighting the importance of PrEP featuring videos from Carlos Molina, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Amida Care, and Ahmed Mohamed, Program Manager at The NEW Pride Agenda, discussing their thoughts on PrEP. Check out our videos All About PrEP!:
Meeting the Challenges
Though COVID-19 disrupted PrEP utilization, one potentially positive outcome of the pandemic is the increased use of telehealth. In-person visits and STI testing are often barriers to accessing PrEP, especially for those already experiencing obstacles like lack of access to transportation restrictive work policies that don’t allow for time off to attend medical appointments, or housing instability. Telehealth and home-based testing can be a good alternative to facility-based testing and care.
It is also necessary to re-enforce the work of STI clinics across the city, ensuring that New Yorkers in need of treatment and testing can get it in their communities. Also helpful would be including routine screenings for STIs in emergency departments and a positive STI test automatically triggering an HIV test and conversation about PrEP.
Additionally, we must reinvigorate PrEP education and outreach efforts to underserved populations. Both COVID-19 and HIV disproportionately impact less-resourced LGBTQ and BIPOC populations; historically, PrEP uptake in these communities has lagged behind wealthier white communities. PrEP outreach initiatives in subway stations, bars, and nightclubs stopped when the pandemic began. But we already know the value of these in-person efforts, and we must rework them safely and effectively.
Injectable PrEP will soon be on the market and when it is, we need to make that it is equitably available to everyone who needs it. With one injection of PrEP every two months, it will be much easier for users to stay on top of their medication.
New York State Medicaid Special Needs Plans (SNPs) have a proven track record of breaking down barriers to accessing care for New Yorkers disproportionately impacted by HIV. The SNP model of care works closely with each member to address complex medical, behavioral, psychosocial, and pharmaceutical needs, playing a critical role in the State’s efforts to end the HIV epidemic.
PrEP is one of our most powerful tools in the effort to end HIV. We need to reinstitute the pre-pandemic practices that supported those at highest risk for HIV in accessing PrEP. New York has the opportunity to learn from the challenges presented by COVID to help the state realize an HIV-free future, and to lead the country toward ending the epidemic on a national level.