What We Want Everyone to Know About PrEP

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In observation of PrEP Aware Week for 2022, it’s fitting to focus on that very theme: Awareness. 

Knowledge and understanding are crucial to what we do professionally, and they are also crucial in the fight against HIV. Unfortunately, from our numerous research studies centered around sexual health, HIV, and PrEP, we’ve seen that there is still so much the general public just doesn’t know about HIV and HIV prevention. We strive to overcome these knowledge gaps in our everyday work. 

If you ask the average person how they can protect themselves from HIV, methods like using condoms or knowing the status of their partners are probably top of mind. While these are important measures to take, large swaths of the population are unaware of another HIV protection method that can be 99% effective. 

First approved in 2012, PrEP, short for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a new tool in the ongoing fight against HIV, and we want everyone to know about it regardless of their risk level. 

Here are some simple facts we wish everyone knew:

  • According to the CDC, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by 99% when taken as prescribed
  • PrEP only requires a daily pill for this level of HIV protection
  • There is even an injectable form of PrEP that only requires a shot every 2 months 
  • PrEP has mild side effects for most people that usually go away over time 
  • Most government and private health insurance plans pay for PrEP 
  • For those without insurance, there are assistance programs to help pay for it

A key part of the fight against HIV is making everyone aware of these crucial facts. There is still work to do here.

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While men who have sex with men are largely aware of PrEP, awareness among the wider public is much lower. Furthermore, there are clear racial disparities in PrEP use and awareness: in 2020, about 66% of the white people who could benefit from PrEP had a prescription for it, compared to only 16% of Latinx and 9% of Black people. Unequal access to insurance, doctors and caregivers, education, and other support networks leave marginalized groups without the necessary tools to protect their sexual health. We see the consequences clearly in the data: 

  • About 40% of the people currently living with HIV are Black and 25% are Hispanic, despite these groups only making up 13% and 18% of the US population, respectively
  • Among people newly diagnosed with HIV in 2019, 41% were Black and 29% were Latinx
  • Transgender people globally are about 13 times more likely to have HIV than other adults, according to the World Health Organization

When marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by HIV so heavily, these disparities in PrEP awareness and use are unacceptable. 

This is why we take our role as researchers so seriously. At the core of it, we help our clients communicate with their target audiences. This is critically important for marginalized populations who could benefit from PrEP, like communities of color, transgender men and women, sex workers, and others who have been left behind in the fight against HIV. By amplifying the voices of these underrepresented, marginalized, and vulnerable people, we are helping to ensure that their needs are heard by those with the power to meet them. 

In the over a dozen studies that we’ve completed centering on HIV, these groups have told us that they want to see culturally relevant and sensitive communications material that empowers them to take charge of their sexual health. They want to “see” themselves in the communications, not just the fit white men who are in the majority of PrEP ads. They want the plain facts about what PrEP is and how it can help them like we’ve given above, not just marketing gimmicks. Armed with this information, our clients can conduct the necessary outreach to help more people protect themselves and their partners from HIV. 

We hope that with our work, we’re doing our own little part to win the global fight against HIV. 

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