When employees from the Philadelphia’s AIDS Activities Coordinating Office called clinics serving those at risk of HIV, posing as a patient, one provider said the wait for an appointment to get preventive medicine was six months.
“A lot of these providers are really overwhelmed, and they don’t have the capacity to deliver PrEP services to the people who are seeking them,” said Javontae Williams, prevention program manager for AACO, which is part of the city’s Department of Public Health.
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and includes a range of pills and now injections that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 99% effective at reducing the risk of contracting HIV through sex. In most cases, it is free.
In an attempt to reach those most susceptible to HIV, the AACO last week launched Philadelphia TelePrEP, a website that allows those interested in the preventive medicine to self-schedule telehealth appointments with physicians.
Patients, through the program, can test themselves for HIV at home and doctor visits can be virtual or over the phone. The initiative is a partnership between the health department and Einstein Medical Center.
The goal, and Williams notes that it is ambitious, is for those expressing interest to receive a prescription within seven days.
“PrEP is not a medication; it’s a concept of preventing something before you acquire it,” he told Metro. “And the message to take away is that HIV is preventable.”
Another objective is making sure patients stick with PrEP. Many abandon the method after eight or nine months, Williams explained.
In addition, the telePrEP site, phillykeeponloving.com, includes details on services for sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.
Information on post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, is also available. PEP is for those exposed to HIV and must be taken within 72 hours of the exposure. Last year, the city and Penn Medicine launched a 24/7 hotline (833-933-2815) for those who need the treatment.
Williams said AACO doesn’t want people to rely on PEP; instead, they want to “build a PEP to PrEP pipeline.”
More than 18,000 people are living with HIV in Philadelphia, according to the city’s annual report, and health department officials say nearly 300,000 are at higher risk for contracting the virus.
TelePrEP, Williams said, is particularly focused on groups disproportionately affected by HIV, such as men who have sex with men, especially Black and Latino men, those between the ages of 13 and 24, and injection drug users.
“There’s a knowledge deficit in terms of people understanding what benefits are actually available to them,” Williams said. “I think we need to do much better about communicating that if you want PrEP, you can get PrEP.”
The treatment is covered by many insurances, including Medicaid, and the telePrEP website includes resources for people without insurance.
For more details, go to www.phillykeeponloving.com or call 215-985-2437.
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