Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia FIGHT seeking to increase PrEP education and accessibility

Mazzoni Center's PrEP Rally will be held Monday, September 20 from noon to 6:00 p.m at 1201 Locust Street.

Mazzoni Center’s Washington Square West Project will host its first ever PrEP Rally on Monday, September 20 from noon to 6:00 p.m at 1201 Locust Street. As part of Philadelphia FIGHT’s PrEP week, the event is designed to spread awareness about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and how it can be used to prevent HIV infection in HIV-negative people.

In addition to learning about PrEP from Mazzoni staff, rally attendees will have opportunities for raffles and swag, free HIV testing, and Covid-19 and flu vaccinations.

“We are so excited to bring Mazzoni Center’s first ever PrEP Rally to our community,” said Director of Communications Larry Benjamin. “Our Community Affairs Manager, Tatyana Woodard, really wanted a fun event to get the community excited about the benefits of PrEP. Learning can be hard and often boring, so we wanted to bring PrEP information and access to community in a fun, low stress and easy way. We made it a priority to partner with Gilead to ensure rally attendees walked away armed with not just information and answers to their questions but also with a 7-day starter pack of PrEP.”

Alongside the PrEP rally, Philadelphia FIGHT will be hosting several seminars on PrEP and PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) usage including “Implementing PrEp in Family Planning Settings” on September 21, “ How Does Philly PEP? Who gets HIV Post Exposure Prophylaxis & Who are we missing?” on September 23, and “Lessons Learned: The Evolution of PrEP Services” on September 24

Despite the advances in HIV prevention like PrEP and PEP, there still exists a stigma around anything related to HIV, including preventative care. Benjamin stressed the importance of breaking through this stigma, especially in communities who are most at risk for HIV exposure and infection.

“We know PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken as prescribed. However, many community members have reservations about PrEP. We hope to not only help folks overcome resistance to taking PrEP but also to address the stigma that is sometimes attached to taking PrEP. We want to address community concerns whether it’s around safety/efficacy of PrEP, or concerns around accessibility and affordability. The PrEP Rally is really open to everyone, but we especially want to reach queer POC/POC  who are the most at risk for HIV, yet have the lowest adoption rates when it comes to PrEP.”

According to the 2019 report HIV in Philadelphia by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, non-Hispanic Black people, people assigned male at birth, men who have sex with men (MSM), and people who are 50 and up comprised the largest percentages of people living with HIV by race/ethnicity, biological sex, transmission risk and age group.

Javontae Lee Williams, program coordinator for the Department of Public Health, said in a webinar last year that almost 14,000 HIV negative Philadelphians “should have access to PrEP, but only about 3,000 of them are actually accessing PrEP. That’s a huge gap.”

In addition to HIV stigma, which stems from issues like homophobia and machismo, other barriers to getting PrEP to those who need it include accessibility of care, gaps in information, and social factors including poverty and inadequate housing.

To set up a one-on-one appointment at the PrEP Rally, call 267-389-353 or email [email protected]. Appointments are encouraged but walk-ups are welcome. To register for one of Philadelphia FIGHT’s webinars, visit https://fight.org/news-and-events/upcoming-events/.

Philadelphia Gay News is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a solutions-oriented collaborative reporting project on poverty and Philadelphia’s push for economic justice.