At this moment, there are about 12,300 Coloradans who are living with HIV - including 9% who are undiagnosed and unaware of their infection. And anywhere from 325 to 400 more of us are newly diagnosed every year. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that HIV infection in Denver is down about 60 percent overall since 2005 thanks to strategies like the Fast-Track Cities Initiative (did you know the city of Denver has pledged to end AIDS by 2030?) and the use of antiretroviral drugs. These antiretroviral drugs do an excellent job of treating people with HIV, driving their viral loads down to the point where they are undetectable. And an undetectable viral load makes it very, very difficult for people who are HIV-positive to spread the virus to anybody else.
And now for the best news of all. Right now it’s easier than it’s ever been for those who are currently HIV-negative to stay that way. It’s called PrEP.
What is Prep? PrEP is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis - the process of taking daily medication to prevent HIV infection. That medication is Truvada, currently the only medication currently approved for PrEP by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. When taken daily, it is over 90% effective in preventing HIV transmission. Pretty amazing.
Compare that to condoms, which, while up to 99% effective in laboratory conditions, can be much less effective in the real world - especially for gay men. At a 2013 conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections results were presented that showed that the effectiveness of condoms for MSM who use condoms can be as little as 70%, according to an article at POZ.com. Yikes. Not to mention that condoms aren’t always at hand, can be used incorrectly or hinder sexual performance, and, of course, there are plenty of guys out there who just don’t like them. For those men, a daily Truvada pill is an easy, effective solution.
“Current data suggests that most people in the gay community in Denver know about PrEP but that only a small number of people are actually on it,” says Mark Thrun, a Denver-based MD who is the Associate Director of HIV Medical Sciences for Gilead Sciences, the makers of Truvada. “It speaks to an enormous gap that hopefully getting the word out about will help us all remedy. There are thousands of people in the Denver area who could benefit from PrEP or at least a discussion with their medical provider about going on PrEP.”
So how do you get on PrEP? It’s pretty easy. Just bring it up to your healthcare provider. Doctors and medical professionals sometimes don’t know we exist or know a lot about our specific concerns as gay men but the more we come out, the more we start talking about our issues and concerns, the more these providers will become comfortable talking about the things we want and need to talk about. Advocate for yourself and don’t be afraid to shop around a little bit, because Colorado has a number of PrEP-friendly providers.
Currently, very few Colorado insurance providers do not pay for PrEP. So if you’ve got insurance, payment should not be much of a barrier. For people without insurance it is a little more challenging but there are financial assistance options available, so don’t give up. For more information on financial assistance and PrEP, visit http://www.proudtobeprepped.com. You owe it to yourself, your partner, and your community to learn as much as you can about PrEP and HIV prevention.