Using medication to prevent HIV can result in stigma

From GPB News

In order to slow the spread of HIV, certain people who do not have the virus but are at risk should take medicine to prevent becoming infected. That’s the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, just recently, the World Health Organization. The preventive treatment is known as PrEP, for pre-exposure prophylaxis.

Eric McCulley made the decision to start PrEP. He’s 40, gay and HIV-negative. Outside an Atlanta coffee shop, he pulls out a plastic baggy with a few blue pills. “They’re a decent size, actually,” he says. “Some people might call them a horse pill.” The pill is called Truvada, a combination of two drugs used to treat HIV. Despite McCulley’s negative HIV status, he’s taken the pill daily for the past few months.

After hearing about the treatment and doing extensive research on his own, McCulley made an appointment with his primary care doctor earlier this year. “He was very supportive about it. He encouraged me to do it,” he says. “He gave me a lot of stuff to read, gave me a lot of stuff to think about, and told me I was a good candidate for it. So off we went.”

So far, McCulley says, the only change the drug has made in his life is in his attitude. “I have what I was looking for. I have peace of mind. I feel like I’ve taken responsibility for my health,” he says.

But some PrEP users worry that not everybody in the medical community is up to speed. Although Truvada has been on the market for a decade, only recently have prescribing guidelines been available. Dylan West is a 25-year-old Atlanta resident and works in international aid. He is also gay and recently found out firsthand that not every doctor is as familiar with PrEP as McCulley’s is.

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