New Austin clinic offers HIV prevention drug free

Used every day it can be up to 96% effective but not everyone knows about Truvada, and not all doctors prescribe it.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It may be akin to the “magic bullet” to prevent HIV, on the market now a few years after FDA approval. Used every day it can be up to 96% effective but not everyone knows about Truvada, and not all doctors prescribe it. Further, it is also very expensive. That’s where the Austin PrEP Clinic comes in. They opened two months ago and provide free prevention drugs to those who cannot afford them. They just want everyone to know they are there.

Ben Walker, executive director of the clinic, says, “This is the newest thing we have to prevent HIV and we know it’s extremely effective. And extremely expensive.” The PrEP Clinic operates with all volunteers and on private donations, open to the public on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Their latest drug is turning heads. Asked if it is a magic bullet, David Ward, a care practitioner at the clinic replies, “It certainly can be, it’s an important tool. Our goal with this clinic is to obsolete ourselves in the next ten years, we want to see a Central Texas free of HIV infection.”

Problem is many people don’t know about the clinic or Truvada, and many doctors do not prescribe it. Ward explains, “I’ve spoken to many colleagues who weren’t even aware this drug was approved by the FDA a few years ago for this new treatment. They weren’t even aware pre-exposure prophylaxis was the thing.”

Walker says the clinic has only about forty patients so far, “The need is there and we could serve more people if we had more capacity and more funding. But as a volunteer operation we’re severely limited right now with what we can do.”

They do help Juan Benitez, a 19 year old marketing student. He first heard about Truvada a year ago but couldn’t afford it, “I knew I wanted to go on it right then and there and I didn’t have the resources. I am uninsured, everything comes out of pocket when it comes to health expenses.” Juan and the clinic know some oppose the concept of HIV prevention drugs because they believe they promote promiscuity. Juan believes people will simply be who they are, “I would say when it comes to people’s sex lives and whatever they practice sexually it’s no one’s place to really judge that. People are going to practice their lives however they want to do it and PrEP is there just to not contract HIV.”

Truvada retails for about $1,500 a month without insurance. Some cities help cover the cost of the drug for their locals but not in Central Texas. The PrEP Clinic hopes to expend it’s outreach, get more volunteers and donations but also believes local government could do more to help.

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