February 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). It’s a day to promote HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and community involvement in black communities. Black people make up 12% of Florida’s population and 45% of people living with an HIV diagnosis.
There are countless articles written about the importance of testing and treatment. This year, let’s focus on prevention.
Let’s face it—dealing with HIV is easy if you don’t have it. While the number of new cases for heterosexual black men and women is declining, new cases for bisexual and gay black men remain too high.
There are many reasons for this, including limited access to high-quality, affordable health care. In 2020, there’s still not enough HIV prevention education, which also increases the risk for HIV.
“I think it's a little bit of a cultural issue that some black men at high risk tend not to come to get tested,” said Dr. Paula Eckardt, Chief of Infectious Disease at Memorial Healthcare System. “So if they're not like thinking that they are either high risk or potentially getting infected with HIV, they're probably not going to seek ways to prevent it.”
The Trump administration wants to reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. An essential part of the plan is the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, a daily medication to help prevent the virus. The medicines, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, are known by the brand names Truvada and Descovy.
When HIV negative men use these drugs as prescribed, they decrease their risk of contracting the virus through sex with men by at least 99%. In short, using these medications as part of a safe-sex lifestyle is effective.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend PrEP for those at high risk for HIV, including:
· Men who have sex with men
· Heterosexual men and women who have high-risk exposure
· People who inject drugs
· Transgender women
PrEP Use Among Black Men
More than one million people in the U.S. would benefit from using PrEP. More than 75% of them are people of color. Yet, PrEP prescriptions for the populations at higher risk remain low. Consider this, PrEP coverage for whites is about 42%. It’s nearly 11% for Latinos and less than 6% for blacks.
Because PrEP works and not enough black men are using it, the question you may have is: how do you get it?
The first step is finding a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and who will speak frankly to you about your sex life. “I think primary care physicians have to see everybody at a potential patient that you can educate,” Dr. Eckardt said. “Doctors must then decide after asking the proper questions if that person is a high risk or not. The CDC has a pamphlet to help physicians talk about sex with their patients, how to ask the questions, and how to make them feel comfortable.”
If you’re concerned about your risk for HIV, talk to your doctor about taking PrEP or . If you’ve tried PrEP but had trouble using it regularly, discuss those issues with your provider, too. To find a PrEP provider visit: .