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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hot Topics: PrEP and PEP

Last Friday, Gloria Searson from SMART and COPE joined SMART Youth to talk about something that’s been buzzing in the news lately: PrEP and PEP

For those who may not know, PrEP – which stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis – is a pill that a person who is HIV-negative can take once a day to dramatically decrease their risk of getting HIV. It has to be taken consistently in order for the medication to be most effective. On the other hand, PEP – which stands for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis – is medication an HIV-negative person take after they may have been exposed to the HIV virus to decrease the chances of the virus replicating in their body. The medication works better when taken as soon as possible, but can be taken up to 72 hours after exposure to the virus. Both of these medicines have to be prescribed by a doctor. For this meeting, we focused mostly on PrEP.

We discussed that there is a difference between who the drug is being marketed to versus who would benefit most from the drug. According to public health guidelines, PrEP is recommended for HIV-negative people who:
  • are in a sexual relationship with someone who is HIV-positive
  • are in a non-mutually monogamous sexual relationship with someone who is HIV-Negative and is someone who is considered to be in a high-risk group
  • injects drugs and shares equipment with others
The drug is primarily marketed towards people who fall into these categories; but our youth brought up other groups who would also benefit from the medication yet are being ignored, such as sex workers. Sex workers face a particular barrier to accessing this drug because sex work is illegal in many parts of the world, including the US. PrEP is an expensive drug PrEP (it can cost $8,000-$14,000 a year), and because sex workers do not receive health insurance for their jobs, they would have to pay out-of-pocket for it. This would be a problem for other people who are poor or uninsured.

There are also people who fear that without proper education, people will misuse the drug (which would make it less effective) or start to engage in riskier sexual activity that could increase the rates of other sexually transmitted diseases.

PrEP may be best for one person, but may not be best for another person; that is a decision that is discussed between you and your doctor. As young people, it is important to make sure we learn about the things that affect our sexual lives because education and information helps us to make more informed decisions about our health, whatever decision that may be.

For more information about PrEP or PEP, check out the links below:

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