Philadelphia FIGHT’s Jonathan Lax Treatment Center and the Youth Health Empowerment Project (Y-HEP) are set to begin Philly’s first Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis program (PrEP) for HIV in young men who have sex with men. Not only will participants receive prescriptions for the pre-exposure prophylactic TRUVADA, a drug designed to help prevent HIV, but the study will examine how ongoing treatment could cut down on the spread of the disease in the gay community.
A group of 15 HIV-negative men (ages 18 to 29) will be part of this initial program – they’ve been recruited through social networking and local AIDS service organizations. The group will meet weekly to discuss everything from HIV stigma and risk to prevention and overall wellness focused on eating, non-smoking and safe sex. Participants will also receive a one-week supply of TRUVADA at each meeting, and remain under the close medical supervision of the center’s Dr. Helen Koenig.
“PrEP prevents the HIV virus from infecting cells of the immune system, and therefore can prevent the spread of HIV when taken every day,” says Koenig. “It is critical to use every tool at our disposal to protect groups at the highest risk of infection.”
The men will also receive baseline tests for HIV, other sexually transmitted infections and kidney function throughout the program. And participants will have access to free medical care at the center for the duration.
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, gay and bisexual men who took the drug daily before and after exposure to the HIV virus, and who were counseled about safe sex practices, greatly lowered their risk of becoming infected. Philadelphia FIGHT is the first organization in Philadelphia to start a PrEP program for those who are currently HIV negative.