Facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are clear: African Americans make up 44 percent of new HIV/AIDS infections in a country in which only 12 percent of the population is Black. Of the approximately 8,000 new infections among women in 2014, six in 10 were Black women.
Organizations and agencies nationwide are now targeting African American women for daily regimens of pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP and distributed under the trade name Truvada. The drug was approved by the FDA in 2012, and studies have shown that taking PrEP before engaging in risky sexual behavior can cut the possibility of transmission of HIV/AIDS by more than 90 percent.
“Historically, we’ve been focusing on men who have sex with men. No one focused on women- and certainly not Black women,” said Linda Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. “We can absolutely prevent HIV. The message to women is that PrEP is available! No one has to know. You can take the pill and take control of your own sexual health to protect yourself and your families.”
Blount’s group seeks to impact public policy and access to care for Black women through advocacy efforts and research across the country. Blount said the issues surrounding new HIV/AIDS infections reach well beyond access to PrEP, which is available through various private, public, and community health insurance agencies.
“There are zip codes in Baltimore and Atlanta where roughly 40 percent of the men are incarcerated,” Blount told the AFRO. “When you subtract 30-40 percent of men from a population, you have a group of heterosexual women with fewer heterosexual partners. If you’re a low income Black woman, you’re really going to stay in your community. If HIV is present, contracting the virus increases dramatically as you are exposed and re-exposed to the same social risk.”
Organizations such as The MAC AIDS Fund are now funding programs specifically aimed at getting more PrEP information and prescriptions in the hands of Black women before they engage in unprotected sex.
According to Gilead Sciences, Inc., the company that developed Truvada, the drug is a combination of two antiretroviral drugs that keep HIV-1 from replicating in new cells. The drug has long been used in HIV-positive patients, but in recent years health authorities have stressed the benefits of Truvada when taken prior to exposure to HIV-infected blood, breast milk, or semen.