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    PrEP Could Be a Game Changer In the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

    davecamposHIV continues to impact our community. In the last five years, 2,066 people in San Francisco alone have been newly diagnosed with HIV. Infections among women, gay men, Latinos, African Americans and transgender people continue to rise.

    We now have a new tool in our fight to protect ourselves from HIV: PrEP. Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, aka PrEP, is a prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people take the medication, Truvada, to reduce the risk of new infection. Medical tests and trials show that if a patient adheres to a daily pill regimen, similar to the birth control pill, PrEP can nearly eliminate the risk of contracting HIV. If widely implemented, PrEP could be the ‘game changer’ needed to fight HIV more effectively.

    Despite approval by the FDA and studies showing PrEP’s effectiveness in preventing new HIV infection, many barriers to accessing this treatment remain. In fact, fewer than 1,000 San Franciscans have had access to PrEP. Many physicians remain hesitant to prescribe PrEP due to a lack of familiarity with this treatment. Additionally, although most insurance companies provide coverage, some require prior-authorization and, depending on an individual’s insurance coverage, individual costs vary significantly.

    prepBeyond the bureaucratic concerns, there are a handful of anti-PrEP zealots spreading fear and concern. The attack line of these groups is nothing new. Women experienced it when birth control pills became available and detractors feared sexual liberation.  When condoms were promoted for safe sex following the tragedy of lives lost to HIV/AIDS, it was argued that the proponents were condoning casual sex. The arguments were ludicrous then, and they shouldn’t be tolerated now. A vaccine or cure may one day end the HIV epidemic but, until we reach that milestone, PrEP is the answer.

    I am working with community members and stakeholders to develop a plan in San Francisco to provide additional resources for PrEP, including developing additional provider implementation protocols, supporting ongoing educational programs for providers and patients, and providing funding for PrEP navigators to provide patient assistance and benefits counseling to ensure easy access to PrEP.

    Historically, San Francisco has been at the forefront of efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS through innovative measures.  We have a chance to continue that legacy now. I am committed to ensuring access to all individuals wanting PrEP regardless of income. Embracing PrEP now will stop new infections and save lives.

    David Campos is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing District 9. This column for the “SF Bay Times” was inspired by Harvey Milk’s efforts to build a coalition of what Milk termed “us’es,” meaning communities that value diversity and attempt to leave no one behind. For more information about Supervisor Campos and his work, please visit http://www.sfbos.org/index.aspx?page=2117