AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s as close as you can get to a vaccine. Within the next 5 months, two more non-profit clinics are scheduled to open in Austin and provide Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, free of charge.
PrEP is an anti-HIV medication that’s approved by the FDA and shown to reduce the risk of infection by 99 percent. The daily pill works to prevent HIV by interfering with virus’ ability to copy itself in your body and establish an infection.
Currently, there are just two providers for the service in Austin: the Kind Clinic, which is scheduled to open a second location in October, and the Center for Health Empowerment (CHE). The Kind Clinic reports in January 2016, nearly 300 of its patients received PrEP prescriptions. Fast-forward to today – they prescribe PrEP to nearly 1,500 patients.
AIDS Services of Austin now plans to open its own clinic at the beginning of next year. The funding, stemming mainly from private donations.
The move comes more than a year and half after the Austin Area Comprehensive HIV Planning Council wrote a letter to the mayor and city council, asking for help to fund the preventative medication. But that didn’t happen.
“After the letter was sent, you know our hope was that some funding would be available in Austin but when we realized that wasn’t happening, then we decided to organize as a community and see how we can offer these services. And that’s actually how one of the first PrEP clinics in Austin started,” AIDS Services of Austin Director of Prevention Alberto Barragan said. “It was completely all volunteer, it was all people from all the different agencies working together to make something happen because we knew it was important for the community.”
Steven Tamayo is an outreach specialist at The Q and says he’s been on PrEP for two years.
“We work with, mostly with young men who have sex with men between the ages of 18-29, I fall in that category and so it’s something that hits close to home,” he said.
Tamayo said he wanted to take charge of his own sexual health.
“I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I need to do to, you know, continue to be safe,” he said. “For me, PrEP was kind of my safety net.”
The decision is one that does come with a wait time in Austin if you’re going through the non-profit clinics.
“It was a bit of a wait because they’re very popular,” Tamayo said. When he got on the medication, the wait was a few weeks. Now it can be as long as 2-3 months.
“For us, it’s about – how do we shorten that time span from the moment someone comes in and wants to get into care,” Barragan said.
Tamayo said he and his friends have found the problem with going through their primary care doctors was that they weren’t very knowledgeable about PrEp – and were met with some resistance.
“We need to not just educate our clients or the community at large, but we need to educate providers and health insurances as well,” Barragan told KXAN. “People would rather say hey, change your behavior, use condoms all the time and you won’t need to take this medication, right? But I think if we wanted to really meet our clients where they’re at, you have to accept them where they are when it comes to their sexual health.”
As KXAN reported last year, other cities have already integrated PrEP into their HIV prevention strategies. Houston, Dallas and San Antonio have expanded access to the prevention medication. Nationally, San Francisco reported a record low HIV infection rate after employing PrEP now three years ago, as a core part of the city’s campaign to eliminate new infections.