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HIV drug PrEP’s popularity soars – but only among white men

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HIV-preventing PrEP drug in tablet form

PrEP has become extremely popular in the US with gay and bisexual men – but only among those who are white, according to new findings.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – the oral medication used to prevent HIV infections – has been hailed as groundbreaking all over the world. However, despite being readily available in the US for a decade, new HIV infections have only seen a steady decrease amongst gay and bisexual white men.

New HIV infections in the Black and Latino communities have only declined very slightly.

The research from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention shows that this inequality is persistent nationwide, causing concerns amongst medical professionals across the US.

Black people contract the virus at the highest rates compared to any other demographic in the US, and despite millions of dollars spent on PrEP, the drug’s usage has highlighted racial inequality amongst gay and bisexual men.

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Black people represented 26 per cent of all HIV transmissions in 2019, compared to white people (15 per cent). Latinos made up 23 per cent of new cases.

Although the number of Black and Latino people taking PrEP has increased over the years, it still lags far behind the figures for white people. Compared to 207,397 white people recorded as using the medication in 2022, only 42,374 Black and 54,674 Latino people were taking PrEP.

Injectable forms of PrEP have been available since 2022 in the US

The research has also found that although long-acting injectable forms of PrEP are now available, few are actually receiving it. This is despite injectable forms of the anti-HIV drug being massively more effective compared to its oral counterpart.

In 2021, an injectable option was FDA approved and made widely available across the US. The new injectable medication, Apretude, is given first as two jabs, each a month apart, and then a jab every other month. It will has been available in the US since early 2022.

The new medication raised hopes amongst campaigners, as taking oral treatment daily can be cumbersome and carry stigma.

Unfortunately, the price of Apretude is outside many people’s budgets, something that is undoubtedly affecting the number of people getting the injection. The injectable option can cost upwards of $1,878 and insurers normally do not cover it.

“There are patients who are getting Apretude now, but it’s people who have health care access, who have health care literacy, who call their insurance companies and yell at the right people,” said Dr Anu Hazra, a physician at LGBTQ-focused Howard Brown Health Chicago.

Although the new statistics are concerning, HIV prevention experts in the US remain positive and expect new, convenient ways for people to take the drug to continue to develop.

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