LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — The first case of AIDS was reported in the United States 40 years ago. Since then, more than 32 million people have died worldwide. It’s an ongoing epidemic, but one where advances in treatment help people live full and healthy lives.
Advances in prevention have been just as remarkable. In 2012, the FDA approved a drug called Truvada for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. A second drug for PrEP, Descovy, was later authorized.
PrEP prevents a person from contracting HIV if their body is exposed to it.
“I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth but it can be very empowering,” said Elizabeth Copes, a nurse practitioner with Community Access Network and the Clinical and Program Coordinator of CAN’s CARES program.
According to the CDC, PrEP can be up to 99-percent effective at protecting someone from getting HIV.
“It’s a good method of protection,” said Copes, “but it should be accompanied by good sex-positive education and a provider that’s comfortable talking about those things.”
One barrier is a lack of awareness among both patients and providers about the drug itself.
“It’s a pretty simple process to follow, so it’s not difficult for a provider that is willing to learn to be able to learn how to do it.”
With insurance and a co-pay coupon from the drug manufacturer Gilead, people can access PrEP for free.
Without insurance, a one-month supply can cost as much as $2,000, but Copes says the Gilead’s foundation offers free PrEP for people without insurance.
“Here at CAN, there hopefully are not any barriers,” said Copes. “I take the time while my patients are in the room with me to say, ‘do you have insurance? No, you don’t? Okay, let’s fill out your application for the foundation right here while I’m in the room with them.”
According to data from Emory University, in partnership with Gilead Sciences, Inc., Lynchburg has one of the lowest rates of PrEP usage in our area.
For every 100,000 people, only 28 are on PrEP, compared to 31 in Danville and 42 in Roanoke and Charlottesville.
“If you travel an hour north or over to Roanoke, there’s advertisements for PrEPon billboards, on the sides of buses, things like that,” said Copes.
“I don’t have a ton of PrEP patients because it’s not marketed here. I hope that changes soon.”
Copes says she usually has appointments on Fridays at Community Access Network for people interested in PrEP.