There’s a pill that prevents HIV. Why aren’t more people taking it?

Health experts say many in Hawaii don’t know about HIV prevention pill

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - PrEP is a powerful prevention option for people who are at high risk of getting HIV.

When used consistently ― as a pill taken every day ― it’s been shown to decrease the risk of getting HIV from sex by a staggering 99%.

Meanwhile, for people who inject drugs, it’s been shown to reduce the risk of getting HIV by at least 74%.

The only problem? Many of those at risk of HIV in Hawaii and nationally don’t know about PrEP, which is short for pre-exposure prophylaxis.

In fact, according to Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, only about 135,000 people in the United States have been prescribed PrEP since it was made available in 2012.

“Seven years later and we still have a lot of people coming in not knowing that PrEP is a pill that can prevent HIV and protect you from HIV,” said Jefferson Remo, of the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center.

New CDC data shows the majority of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who don’t know they have the virus or by those diagnosed and not receiving care.

It’s estimated that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States, and 165,000 don’t know they have the virus.

State Health Department figures from 2017 put the number of people in the islands with HIV/AIDS at nearly 4,900.

Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, said progress in HIV prevention has stalled in recent years as the rate of new infections levels off.

“Some of that is because there are still people who don’t know they have HIV, and there are people who have HIV that aren’t accessing the treatment necessary,” Mermin said.

“Some of the people who are eligible for PrEP, this pill that prevents you from getting HIV, aren’t getting it.”

There are about 39,000 new HIV infections every year in the U.S., and about 50% occur in the southern states, where access to prevention and treatment can be limited.

The push to improve awareness about PrEP comes amid a new federal initiative that aims to reduce new HIV infections by at least 90% in 10 years.

To learn more about PrEP and to see if it’s right for you, click here.

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