In the United States, Blacks represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for more than 44 percent of HIV diagnoses.
Though there is no cure for HIV, there are safe and effective treatments that keep people healthy and stop its spread. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, help protect HIV-negative people from getting the disease.
Currently the only approved PrEP medicine is a drug called Truvada. Though it has been available since 2014, statistics from health care professionals show large disparities in consumption and in awareness between Black and White communities.
“Black and Brown people account for the largest population of infections, particularly males and new cases in the U.S., but White males are the number-one consumer for the drug Truvada,” said Danielle Houston, a representative for Gilead, a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of innovative medicines.
“Unfortunately, HIV for the Black community is part of a large list of problems,” Houston said. “In America, the number-one cause for death for Black men is homicide, the number-three killer is suicide and number six is HIV. Though HIV is on the top 10 list [it] doesn’t take immediate concern. Most infections happen between the ages of 20-29, so there lies a lot of conflicting stories. People in the Black community need to be more aware of what is available out there for them and know that life is hard, but HIV is something that can now be prevented.”
The early adopters of PrEP have largely been white gay men and couples where one partner is HIV-positive, especially those trying to conceive naturally. However, the communities most at risk of HIV are Black and Latino men who have sex with men, transgender women, and Black women. The groups that are most affected by HIV are least aware that PrEP is an option.
“In the Black community, you will find a lot of people not heavily covered with health insurance,” said Jazmin Sutherlin, a representative from Heart to Hand, a Prince George’s County nonprofit that provides health support services and medical care to all low-income residents living with a chronic illness, with a focus on HIV/AIDS. “People aren’t going to the doctors as much as they should and that’s where you start to see a major decline in the use of PrEP.
“I transitioned into a female almost 12 years ago and though I am not HIV-positive, people need to understand what that means,” Sutherlin said. “Talking about PrEP is really about empowering people about a drug that allows them an extra layer of protection.”
Any doctor can write a prescription for PrEP. Prescriptions are written for 90 days. While on PrEP, people are expected to regularly get HIV/STIs tests along with other check-ups. That means that a person on PrEP has to be engaged in health care. Most health insurance plans cover PrEP and there are co-pay and medication assistance programs available to ensure patients who need them.
Though PrEP can protect a person from getting HIV when they have condomless sex with a person who is HIV-positive, PrEP does not prevent any other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. So its use should be combined with other safer sex practices.