“This addresses a whole segment of society that has been marginalized and feels like they are not included,” said Rick Dean, executive director of the Santa Rosa nonprofit HIV test center, Face to Face, whose clients include gay and transgender people. “It addresses it squarely and says, ‘We get it. Not a big deal.’?”
PrEP stands for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis, protection before exposure to HIV. It’s a once a day pill called Truvada for people who are HIV negative to protect them from getting HIV. PrEP was approved by the FDA in 2012, and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for use in HIV prevention.
I recently attended the National PrEP Summit with other HIV prevention professionals from around the country. The two-part take away for me could not have been any clearer: PrEP works, and there are so many more people who should be using it. Throughout the country, PrEP is disproportionally underutilized by women, African Americans, and Latinos. There are many challenges in getting the word out about PrEP, especially in these populations.
I have said before, if you had told us in the 1980s and 90s that there was a pill that could have prevented HIV, people would have been falling all over each other to get it. So, why not now? Although a growing number of people are beginning to use PrEP as part of their personal HIV prevention strategy, it has not taken off as quickly as one would think. There are a variety of reasons for this, the first clinical trials showed that PrEP was only 44% effective, not all that exciting. However, when they dug deeper into the data it showed to be up to 99% effective for those in the study who actually took the medicine every day as prescribed. Now we’re talking!
Many people, especially in certain populations have still not heard of PrEP, or have not heard how effective it is in preventing HIV. There has also been some stigma related to taking PrEP (similar to birth control when it first came out in the 60s). Early PrEP users were often referred to as “Truvada Whores”. Fortunately, this has begun to wane in the Gay community, where it is now being viewed as a positive thing that a potential sexual partner has been protecting themselves from HIV. Other barriers in getting people on the PrEP bandwagon include the high cost, and medical providers who are not comfortable prescribing it.
While PrEP is very expensive, $1,300 a month, it’s covered by most health plans including Medi-Cal. There are also patient assistance programs that can help with co-payments. Although many non-HIV specific doctors are not knowledgeable, and therefore uncomfortable, prescribing PrEP (or even talking to their patient about sex), we are fortunate here in Sonoma County to have several local health centers that are eager to talk to their patients about starting PrEP. California just passed a law requiring HIV test counselors to tell every person who tests negative about PrEP.
Face to Face does the majority of HIV testing in the county. We’ve been handing out PrEP brochures, and referring people to PrEP providers for quite a while. We are strong advocates for using every tool out there to end HIV transmissions in Sonoma County, and believe PrEP is our most powerful prevention tool yet. Each time we deliver the news that someone is HIV positive, I wonder if this person had heard of PrEP, considered it, thought they didn’t need it, or couldn’t afford it. A person does not need to be at high risk for getting HIV, they just have to be at risk.
The PrEP vs condoms controversy: Can’t people just use condoms? Sure, and many people do and feel comfortable with that level of protection. However, condoms don’t work at all if they’re left in the bedside drawer, just like PrEP doesn’t work if you don’t take it. Many people have a hard time (pun intended) with condoms, and therefore don’t use them regularly. Most see PrEP as an extra layer of protection and use them in conjunction with condoms. Some choose to use PrEP only, and do not use condoms. Yes, public health folks are concerned about increases in other sexually transmitted diseases. And, while there is currently a significant spike in Chlamydia, Syphilis, and Gonorrhea in California and in Sonoma County, it has not been shown that PrEP is to blame. And remember, these sexually transmitted infections are all curable, whereas there is still no cure for HIV.
- So, PrEP is effective. There has been only one known case of someone contracting HIV while on PrEP, owing to a rare Truvada-resistant strain of HIV.
- And, PrEP is safe. Most people experience no side effects and those who do say they are mild and last less than a month.
- And, PrEP is available locally, and in most cases, affordable.
The enthusiasm and hope of ending HIV at the National PrEP Summit got me thinking about myself. I’m a single Gay man. I’m 62, and not quite as “popular” as I was in my 20’s, but couldn’t I use another layer of protection? Why not take PrEP myself? I called my doctor, got labs done to make sure I’m HIV negative, a full STD screening, checked my kidney function and bone density (all good tests I haven’t had in a long time), and now I’m ready to start my once a day pill. Who knows, maybe I’ll become more “popular” because of it, lol.
If you, or someone you know is curious about PrEP, come in and talk to one of our HIV Test Counselors. Get more information, have your questions answered, and if you’re ready, get a referral to a local provider. Test Counselors are available on a drop-in basis, Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm at the Face to Face office at 873 Second Street, Santa Rosa.
Lorelle will provide an overview of the newly created monthly group sessions she will be hosting at Face to Face.
Monthly session will be held every second Thursday at at 2:15 pm.
Lorelle Saxena graduated in 2008 from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine with a Master of Science degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine. She is a State of California-licensed acupuncturist. Her clinical internship work included training at the San Diego Hospice, the UCSD Owen Clinic for HIV and AIDS patient care, and a community clinic for low-income senior citizens.
Lorelle’s focus is on compassionate, empowering healthcare–care that gradually facilitates the body’s own ability to heal itself, education that helps patients understand how to enact preventive medicine in their day-to-day lives, and support that allows patients to work towards optimal health in a safe, comfortable environment.
Lorelle has been voted Best Acupuncturist in Sonoma County Three Years in a Row by the Bohemian.
PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis)
What is PrEP? Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a way to prevent HIV. With PrEP, people who are HIV-negative take a medication (Truvada) once a day to reduce the risk of getting infected if they’re exposed to HIV. PrEP is an additional method that can be used with other HIV prevention strategies such as condoms.
PrEP clinical trials have been conducted, or are currently being conducted, all over the world. Research has very clearly demonstrated that PrEP offers high levels of protection against HIV 1nfection if you taken it regularly. But, if you don’t take it consistently, PrEP can’t protect you from HIV.
Questions About PrEP
- Why do we need HIV prevention tools like PrEP?
- Aren’t condoms good enough?
- What are the side effects from PrEP?
- How can I afford PrEP?
- Where is PrEP available now?
Interested in Starting PrEP?
Visit your primary care physician to begin the conversation. PrEP is covered by most medical insurance companies, including Kaiser, Medical Cal, and Medicare.
If you are on Medical Cal, visit any one of the following F2F community partners:
Not sure what to ask? Here is a handy resource to get your conversation stared.
If you are not ready to speak to you healthcare provider but would like to learn more about PrEP from F2F, visit our office Tuesdays – Fridays from 9am-4:30pm for your regular HIV test and ask your test counselor for more information.
Each year, Beerfest is an extravaganza with more than 60 of Northern California’s best craft breweries featuring over 120 unique brews. VIP tickets enter the festival one hour before the general admission guests and take home a collectible mug.
VIP tickets: $60
General admission tickets: $50
Visit the Beerfest website for more information or buy your tickets below:
Become a Speakers Bureau Health Educator
Face to Face provides free HIV prevention education to more than 1000 Sonoma County middle and high school students.
Our Speakers Bureau brings a health educator and HIV-positive speaker to meet with students for an unforgettable and informative presentation.
Our health educator covers the basics—teaching students about HIV and how transmission can be prevented. Our HIV-positive speaker connects with students on a personal and emotional level, helping to get a message across in a way that informs, inspires, enlightens, and reduces the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Sign up to learn more about becoming a F2F Speakers Bureau Health Educator and/or Positive Speaker. We will be hosting a free training where you will become equipped with the tools to present the content of our free HIV prevention education series to students in Sonoma County middle and high schools.
A special training for school teachers and administrators will take place on Tues., April 4, from 3-4:30 pm in Santa Rosa.
A training for non-educators will take place on Wed., March 29, from 2-4pm in Santa Rosa.
The Speakers’ Bureau is made possible in part to a grant from Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. Face to Face presents the program to students in Santa Rosa with support from the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation.
Face to Face Feature Film
February 3, 2017
Rialto Cinemas Sebastopol
Strike a Pose is a unique documentary that brings together the surviving dancers from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour at the height of her fame in 1990 which was chronicled in the acclaimed documentary Truth Or Dare. But despite having the word Truth in its title there is much that wasn’t discussed in that film because the dancers were not ready to talk about themselves. Now the remaining six have been reunited in this powerful story about truth, love, sexuality, and HIV.
Proceeds from the movie benefit F2F HIV prevention & care services programs.
Visit Rialto Cinemas Sebastopol for more details.
Tuesday, November 29
A Global Day of Giving
What is Giving Tuesday:
Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.
Make Your Gift
You can make a lasting and local impact this #GivingTuesday with support for Face to Face’s life-changing care services for people living with HIV/AIDS in Sonoma County.
$20 – The Most Important Tool in HIV Prevention and Care
Provide a confidential/anonymous HIV test for someone. Rapid oral test includes risk reduction information and counseling.
$50- Just Wear it
Help us promote condom use all year long. We distribute condoms at events and venues throughout the community. A case of 1,000 condoms.
$75 – Social Security and Disability Insurance Benefits Counseling
Our Benefits Counselor can help sort out what benefits someone is eligible for, how to apply, how to appeal a denial. One and a half hour session.
$100 – Train a Speaker to Share Their Story and Make a Difference
Our Speakers’ Bureau goes into local schools. Positive Speakers connect on an emotional level with students in a way that informs, inspires, enlightens, and reduces stigma.
$500 – I Have HIV, Now What?
Sponsor a newly diagnosed person. From an initial comprehensive intake and assessment, through referrals, case management, hand-holding and hugs, the first six months are crucial in getting care and services in place.
How to make your gift today:
Make a donation using our secure online form. Your gift will be counted on Tuesday, November 29, toward our $15,000 fundraising goal