By Chelsea Mottern, Program Associate
Did you know that in 2015, women made up 19% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States? All too often, women are overlooked in conversations about HIV prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the once-a-day pill to prevent HIV transmission.
PrEP, when taken daily, is up to 99% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. For HIV-negative womenin high-risk populations, PrEP is a great tool for preventing the transmission of HIV. Women at higher risk for HIV infection include:
- Women who have HIV-positive sexual partners
- African American heterosexual women
- Transgender women from communities of color
- Injection drug users
- Sex workers or women who are not in full control of their sexual autonomy
- Women living in the Southeastern region of the United States Women who were recently diagnosed with a bacterial STI, including gonorrhea and syphilis
Here’s a great video by Project Inform on the benefits of PrEP for women:
So why aren’t more women taking PrEP? One study points to a lack of knowledge about PrEP in high-risk communities. While over half of the participants in the study had been tested for HIV, almost none of them received information about PrEP from their doctor. Other barriers cited include prohibitive costs, transportation barriers, stigma, and denial about their risk level. Here are some things you need to know if you are a woman and you are interested in PrEP:
1. PrEP puts women in control of their sexual health. PrEP takes the guesswork out of sex by giving HIV-negative people the tools to protect themselves against HIV. In 2015, 86% of women who were infected with HIV were infected through heterosexual sex. PrEP can help women protect themselves when they do not know the status of their partner.
2. PrEP is safe and affordable. PrEP is the only FDA-approved drug to prevent HIV transmission, it’s safe, and it’s covered by most private insurance plans and Medi-Cal. If PrEP is not covered under your insurance plan, check out Gilead Science’s Patient Assistance program. Gilead’s Advancing Access Co-Pay Assistance program will even cover your co-pays in many cases!
3. PrEP is also safe for women trying to conceive. PrEP has been shown to be safe to take for HIV-negative women while they are trying to get pregnant. More research needs to be done on the effects of taking PrEP while pregnant.
4. PrEP can be used together with hormonal birth control. PrEP does not interact with hormonal birth control and can be used together. PrEP is often compared to birth control pills– they are both a pill taken daily that reduces risk by 99%!
5. PrEP works for transgender women, but only if they use it. Studies have shown PrEP to be highly effective in preventing HIV in transgender and gender non-conforming women, however access to PrEP and adherence remain pressing issues. Reasons for this may be related to structural barriers, such as discrimination and lack of access to care, or fear of adverse drug reactions. No evidence to date suggests negative drug interactions between PrEP and gender-affirming hormone medications, but more research is being done in this area.
To retain and encourage PrEP use, gender-affirming providers and positive clinic environments that integrate PrEP delivery with existing gender-affirming hormone therapies is essential to meet unique sexual health needs of transgender women. Click here, for more information on transgender women, PrEP, and sexual health.
6. PrEP is available at community clinics and doctor’s offices across the state. Check out the following websites to locate a PrEP provider near you.
- California: www.PleasePrepMe.org
- Los Angeles County: www.getprepla.com
- Outside of California: www.preplocator.org
7. PrEP does not prevent against other sexually transmitted infections. The Center for Disease Control recommends PrEP in conjunction with condom usage for maximum protection!
Putting an end to HIV can’t happen without including women in the conversation! Help Equality California fight HIV stigma and end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by spreading the word about PrEP! You can also check out our #TakeIt website for even more resources!
Supported by grant funding from Gilead Sciences, Inc. Gilead Sciences, Inc. has had no input into the development or content of these materials.
Chelsea Mottern is a program associate responsible for grants management and healthcare initiatives in Southern California.