December 1st marks World AIDS Day, a time when we pause to remember those who have died due to AIDS; we celebrate the progress that has been made and consider how the epidemic has impacted us as individuals and as a community. In addition to the many advances that have been made through the years in the development of life-saving medications, in July 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Truvada for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). Taken once daily, the medication reduces one’s risk of acquiring HIV if exposed. This is the newest tool in the HIV Prevention toolkit, and its approval is excellent news for individuals who are at high risk for HIV infection. On May 2, 2016, the Richmond City Health District began offering PrEP to the clients it serves.
While there have been great strides in reducing the number of new infections since the beginning of the epidemic, there is still much work to be done. Cities in the Southeastern part of the United States continue to have high rates of new HIV infection, with African Americans and people living in poverty being particularly hard hit. Despite this trend, there is some good news. From 2011 to 2015, the number of HIV diagnoses has declined in Richmond city, with 104 new diagnoses in 2011 to 68 new diagnoses in 2015. Seventy-one percent of new diagnoses in Richmond were among the African-American community. Statewide, new HIV diagnoses during the same timeframe have remained relatively stable.
With a goal of reducing the number of new HIV infections to zero, the Richmond City Health District offers many HIV related services for clients who are at risk for HIV. Patients can receive free HIV testing, risk reduction counseling, access to free condoms, and counseling and education for PrEP. For those clients who are interested in PrEP, the Richmond City Health District will perform all of the required labs and follow up, as well as provide the medication and work with patients to ensure that they have access to the PrEP medication regardless of ability to pay.
PrEP is a great tool for people who have any risk of acquiring HIV. It is particularly recommended for HIV negative individuals whose partner is HIV positive, individuals who have had syphilis in the past year, those with multiple STD diagnoses in the past year, people who have unprotected sex with multiple partners, and men who have sex with men.
Not sure if PrEP is right for you? Contact Erica Henley, PrEP Coordinator at 804-205-3508 or Erica.Henley@vdh.virginia.gov or Kendra Weindling, STI/HIV Program Supervisor at the Richmond City Health District for more information. Kendra can be reached at 804-482-8007 or Kendra.Weindling@vdh.virginia.gov.