Philadelphia FIGHT has been on the forefront of prescribing Truvada® for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) since FDA approval in 2012. The Y-HEP Health Center on Locust Street started Monday PrEP nights with the support of Dr. Helen Koenig (medical director of PrEP programs across Philadelphia FIGHT), and kept the clinic open until 9 p.m. so Philly’s youth could drop in and see a health-care provider.
Not long after the John Bell Health Center opened its doors in the summer of 2014, PrEP became a core component of its standard of care. Five years and 500 prescriptions later, the desire of Philadelphians to acquire PrEP at FIGHT’s community health centers doesn’t show any signs of dwindling. PrEP is more than 95-percent effective at preventing HIV infection through sexual contact when taken daily. Research out of Seattle in 2014 found that PrEP users experienced “ … less feelings of vulnerability, fear and shame … ”
Last spring, Philadelphia FIGHT released its first PrEP ad campaign, “Stay Negative. Sex Positive.” We wanted to celebrate the idea of having sex without fear — of sex being a positive and intimate experience — and destigmatize the notion of sex with HIV-positive partners. Staying HIV-negative takes more than knowing your status; it involves using condoms, knowing your partner’s status and knowing your partner’s viral load.
The prospect of preventing infection through a daily pill is an incredible opportunity. It was so important for us to create a sex-positive campaign for PrEP that didn’t involve hyper-sexualizing the male or female form. While those images may be nice to look at, PrEP goes beyond the human body. It’s existential; an empowering control of one’s own health. To further promote the program, a PrEP hotline (215-545-PREP) was created so that people could reach a PrEP coordinator directly, ask questions or schedule an appointment with a health-care provider.
There has been a steady decline in new HIV infections here in Philadelphia over the past three years, but we still have work to do. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy, first developed in 2010 by former President Barack Obama, has refined its vision leading up to 2020 to include PrEP as an important prevention method in addition to Treatment as Prevention (TasP). Now, more than ever, places like Philadelphia FIGHT are crucial access points to PrEP and we remain committed to eliminating as many barriers as possible to empower our patients to remain HIV-negative. World AIDS Day is a time to reflect on loved ones who have since passed and to support loved ones living with HIV/AIDS — but it’s also a time to recommit to the fight to end new HIV infections. This can happen by making PrEP accessible and affordable to as many people as possible so they too may stay negative and sex-positive.
Rachel Nahan, MPH, serves as the director of PrEP and Patient Navigation Services at Philadelphia FIGHT. Nahan holds a BS in community health education from Montclair State University and an MPH from The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Questions about PrEP? Curious about getting on PrEP? Call Philadelphia FIGHT’s PrEP hotline at 215-545-PREP (7737).