The student health center at Morehouse College will soon be offering PrEP – the HIV prevention tool taken once per day – to students thanks to funds and training from Fulton County and Kaiser Permanente.
Dr. David Holland (photo), chief clinical officer of the Fulton County Department of Health & Wellness, said that offering pre-exposure prophylaxis is an important step in combatting the spread of HIV, particularly among young gay and bisexual men of color.
“Rates of HIV infection among young men who have sex with men, particularly men of color, are increasing, so we need additional interventions to help get protect individuals and prevent new transmissions,” Holland said.
“PrEP is a highly-effective prevention measure, so rolling it out to college students is a great first step in increasing uptake among younger people,” he added.
The county opened a first-of-its kind public PrEP clinic last year.
Currently, half of young black men who have sex with men are expected to become HIV positive in their lifetime. In February, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus explored the crisis and is working on policy measures to address Georgia’s high rate of new HIV infections.
Dr. Cynthia Trawick, administrative director at Morehouse’s student health center, said offering PrEP is an opportunity to address HIV among students at the campus.
“The end goal is to be able to provide students who are interested in taking PrEP, prophylaxis, the opportunity to do that so that we can combat the spread of HIV,” Trawick said.
Some students visiting the clinic have already requested PrEP, Trawick said. Having the prevention tool available also allows the health center to dispel myths that exist about PrEP among students.
“We want students to really understand that PrEP is for HIV, not for STIs [sexually transmitted infections, often called STDs], so there’s a difference. So we want to make sure that they understand that you have to take it every day and you have to be consistent in taking it for it to work,” she said.
John Eaves, chair of the Fulton County Commission, said offering PrEP at Morehouse is a pilot program but one officials hope to expand to other Atlanta colleges.
“We took up this project, especially the PrEP project in college campuses, it hasn’t really been done across the nation,” Eaves said. “Kaiser Permanente agreed to fund the project, and so Morehouse became the pilot campus to start this project.”
Kaiser Permanente is contributing $100,000 and the Fulton health department is training medical providers on staff at Morehouse’s student health center.
“Students don’t have to travel all the way to the health department and it’s much easier for them,” Eaves said.
A barrier to PrEP is its cost, which can reach $1,500 a month. It’s also only available from the pharmaceutical company Gilead. This pilot program doesn’t have the funds to subsidize the medication for students, although officials have been in talks with Gilead about a possible partnership. There are other programs that currently exist to help make PrEP affordable.