Disclosure: Jaya, a regular Heliopolis contributor, was asked by the editor to write a piece concerning the PrEP clinic which overlaps with her professional life. She is also the medical director of the PrEP clinic. Additionally, another contributor, Garrett Johnson, used to work with the Philadelphia Center in development.
HIV PrEP is here! Available since 2012, PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, has finally made it to Shreveport by way of the Philadelphia Center. According to the intermittently useful CDC, “PrEP is a way for people who do not have HIV, but who are at substantial risk of getting it, to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day.” When taken correctly, it reduces the risk of transmission in the high-risk populace by 92%. NINETY-TWO PERCENT! This is astounding as it could mean the near-demise of AIDS only a generation after it became an ignored-by-the-government epidemic that has claimed over 636,000 American lives since 1981.
I sat down with Wellness & PrEP Clinic Coordinator Michael Freeman to find out more.
1. Why was it so important to start a PrEP clinic in Shreveport?
[Louisiana has] some of the highest STD rates in the country. Shreveport ranks third in the state for new cases of HIV.
[Author’s note: According to the CDC website, 2014 HIV transmission rates in Louisiana were almost double the national average for males and triple for females.]
2. What has taken so long for it to get here?
Even though it’s been available since 2012, there [has been] a lack of education with physicians who just don’t want to deal with it. I hear from my patients all the time, “I cannot find a physician that will write this prescription.” The few physicians in town who have a patient or two on it basically told them, “Don’t tell anyone that I do this.”
3. Man. Who’s the awesome doctor that signed on with y’all to help start it?
[Author’s note: the actual awesome person treating patients is Christine Brennan, a nurse practitioner based out of NOLA who has been an advocate for HIV patients around the country for several years and has been involved in PrEP since it was approved.]
4. When did you open, and how often is the clinic?
We started October 13th, 2016. We had eight appointments scheduled and 17 people show up. We accommodated all of them, but we had to go to appointment only! The clinic is twice a month, every 2nd and 4th Thursday night.
5. What happens at a clinic visit?
For a new intake, you get testing, including oral and rectal swabs, for HIV and other STDs. We do risk management and reduction as well as counseling. We treat STDs and offer PrEP and continue to follow you regularly.
6. How has the response been?
We haven’t even advertised yet, and we are swamped! It has taken off. Most of our new positives so far have been young black males between 16 to 26. That is so important because normally that’s been a demographic that’s really hard to reach.
7. What is the cost to patients?
We are able to offer this at no cost currently. We have state funding for STD testing as well as a local grant from a community foundation.
8. Any haters?
When Truvada came out, there was this stigma about “Truvada whores.” (Truvada is the name of the drug used in PrEP.) The sentiment was that we were encouraging high-risk behavior, but that’s not what the data shows. Condom use has actually gone up with PrEP patients. With the counseling and regular clinic visits, people are more likely to act responsibly.
9. What does the future hold?
Right now we have one nurse practitioner who flies in from New Orleans twice a month to do this clinic. We are looking for another and are hoping to offer more appointments. I’m so very excited as I look at numbers throughout the state! GoCare (in Monroe) has 40 active patients, and Baton Rouge has 177. I’m looking at us being somewhere in between that. I think we can hit 75 easily.
10. Why is this important to you? Aside from the fact that you’re making a major impact in the fight to end a deadly disease for humanity!
I’m just a small town boy who didn’t know anything about HIV for a long time. I had a partner who died in 1998 of AIDS, and ever since it’s been an issue very heavy on my heart. I’m a phlebotomist and plan on finishing nursing school. I love helping people.
To learn more, visit philadelphiacenter.org or call (318) 222-6633