AUSTIN (KXAN) — Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas recently added the service of prescribing HIV prevention medication to patients at risk of acquiring it.
“Knowing that it’s not widely available to most people who need it, we really saw that it was a really important service that we started to offer,” regional medical director Dr. Amna Dermish said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 4,5000 adults and adolescents were diagnosed with HIV in Texas in 2015. Texas was third among 50 states in the number of HIV diagnoses that year.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, is a daily pill for reducing HIV transmission for patients with high risk for exposure. PEP, which is post-exposure prophylaxis, is taken after exposure to reduce HIV transmission.
“Because it’s a preventative care, it’s something we screen people for at visits when they come to see us,” Dermish said. “If we determine that they do have risk factors for acquiring HIV, then we discuss the option to initiate PrEP therapy with them.”
Both PrEP and PEP are medications doctors at health centers under Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas can prescribe.
“It’s a common misconception that PrEP therapy is really only needed by men who have sex with men or men in the LGBTQ community,” Dermish said. “As a matter of fact, one in five new acquisitions of HIV are among women. Particularly women of color are at high risk.”
“PrEP now gives us a tool with condoms to be able to end the epidemic,” Alberto Barragan, director of prevention of AIDS Services of Austin, said. “But the issue we run into is people can’t afford it.”
PrEP can cost more than $1,000 each month, but there are payment options. However, cost isn’t the only barrier in letting people know about the medication.
“Because people don’t talk about sex and because they don’t talk about how to prevent HIV or STIs, therefore, they are not aware there is this medication,” Barragan said.
AIDS Services of Austin is in the process of preparing for its new medical clinic to open in August, which will also offer PrEP and PEP.
Barragan says it’s critical physicians prescribe the medications responsibly as it gains more attention, saying it can’t be generalized from patient to patient.
“It has to be based on people’s risk,” he said.