After watching the last episode of “American Horror Story,” a moment during the episode stuck with me for the rest of the night. No, it wasn’t the clowns, but the scene that mentioned PrEP. It was a monumental occasion because this meant that PrEP has finally hit the mainstream media. While this is great for PrEP gaining exposure to a larger audience, the real work of getting the information and services to those who need it is nowhere close to being finished. And this is a journey that many should consider taking.
PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and is a way for people who don’t have HIV to take a pill every day to prevent infection. PrEP was created to aid people in the fight against becoming HIV-positive and is to be used alongside other preventative measures including condoms. If taken daily, without missing any doses, PrEP has been proven to be 92-percent effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission. When we add into the mix the statistical fact that someone who is HIV-positive and undetectable cannot pass on the virus to another person, the goal of ending the HIV epidemic becomes more of a reality. PrEP alone cannot stop HIV; however, what PrEP can do is be added to people’s sexual-health toolkit as a method of prevention. This will help everyone at risk for HIV transmission to take another step towards owning their sexual health positively through this preventative measure.
This is where Mazzoni Center’s Navigation Program comes in. It provides support to help individuals through this journey in becoming more knowledgeable about PrEP and whether they should take it. Navigation provides this support to MSM (men who have sex with men) and individuals of trans experience who are at high risk of contracting HIV. Navigation offers services to any client referred by Mazzoni Center’s community-based testing program at Washington West Project, other agency programs or those who self-refer. A navigation specialist will work one-on-one with the client to develop a personalized action plan, and follow up by phone and/or in person to assess their progress. These one-on-one sessions include, but are not limited to, obtaining PrEP but also include medical coverage, linkage to medical care and referral to services such as mental-health treatment, substance-use treatment, education, vocational training and housing. The navigation team’s goal is to link individuals to resources and services around Philadelphia to help keep them healthy and happy.
One of these services is the Mazzoni Center’s PrEP clinic. Mazzoni offers a weekly PrEP clinic in partnership with the navigation team. The clinic is by appointment only, which was designed as the best way to maximize the ability of providers to answer basic questions clients have, and also to be able to get them access to PrEP quicker.
The PrEP Clinic is a gateway to possibilities in that each person who comes through the doors has the opportunity to have an assessment done with a social worker, which includes a one-on-one discussion about the individual’s mental health and social well-being. A barrier to being able to take PrEP as prescribed for many is that their mental health and social well-being are not being taken care of in conjunction with their physical health. People often don’t know what happens at a medical appointment. Through this full discussion, patients go on to establish primary care at Mazzoni Center and are referred to mental-health services that provide both one-on-one session and groups. During the PrEP Clinic, patients are able to meet with an actual Mazzoni Center health-care provider to discuss their sexual health along with their physical and emotional health.
Studies have also shown that another barrier to PrEP was cost. Cost of a prescription for PrEP is determined based on insurance status and/or income. The patient will speak with a navigation specialist who can enroll them in an assistance program that can often cut the cost of the patient’s medication down to zero. In addition, the navigation specialist will be with the patient as support during the PrEP journey to discuss side effects, adherence and potential referrals that may benefit the patient. Staffers at the PrEP Clinic treat each patient as a person and not a number through patient-focused/led care and by providing the respect they would want for themselves when beginning a new journey towards greater health outcomes.
The journey to learning more about and being on PrEP should never be one that an individual takes alone. Mazzoni Center believes that, with the support of our navigation team and PrEP Clinic, you will be able to be overcome the many barriers that come with being on the journey to becoming happier and healthier.
For more information about PrEP, navigation services or to make an appointment for the PrEP Clinic, call 215-563-0652 ext. 608 or visit www.mazzonicenter.org/navigation.