BY JEFF TAYLOR | While incredible progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS since the early days of the epidemic, it is still that, an epidemic. More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States alone, with one in eight unaware of their status, according to the Center for Disease Control.
In 2015, there were nearly 40,000 newly diagnosed cases of HIV in the U.S.
According to the most recent available statistics from the California Department of Public Health, Los Angeles had nearly 20,000 people living with HIV in 2013, more than three times the county with the second highest number of those living with HIV in the state, San Francisco.
In response to this crisis, the Los Angeles LGBT Center has launched a new campaign, called “F*ck w/out Fear,” to raise awareness for, and help provide access to, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a safe and effective tool to prevent HIV infection.
PrEP involves taking a medicine in pill form once daily, and when done correctly has been shown in studies to be even more effective than condoms at reducing the risk of contracting HIV. Better yet, it can be used in conjunction with condoms.
A recent study by APLA Health of young gay and bisexual men revealed that Latino and African-American youth are the least likely to know about PrEP and less than 10 percent are using it, showing the need for an awareness-raising campaign.
Without immediate intervention, the CDC estimates that one in two gay or bisexual black men and one in four gay or bisexual Latino men will be infected with HIV at some point in their lives.
“It’s widely believed that a two-pronged approach is what will be most effective at ending the transmission of HIV in the U.S.,” said Robert Bolan M.D., Los Angeles LGBT Center chief medical officer, in a statement. “Quickly linking newly diagnosed HIV positive people to care can reduce or eliminate the risk they can transmit the virus; it’s the same treatment effect for people who have been living with HIV for a while or a long time. Then if HIV uninfected people who are most at-risk of infection successfully protect themselves from the virus, we can effectively end HIV transmission here. Because the availability of condoms alone hasn’t been enough to stop HIV, we’re excited about the promise of PrEP.”
The Center’s says it chose to use “raw, real language to get people’s attention and spur conversation.”
PrEP is now covered by most insurance plans, and those who are uninsured can get help making it affordable through patient assistance programs, which the Center will facilitate. They offer a free PrEP consultation, which can be scheduled online at PrEPHere.org, and most will be able to walk out with a prescription. They are also offering transportation assistance to those who live far from the Center’s facilities in Hollywood and West Hollywood.
“We’ve got the tools to not only end the fear of HIV, but to end it as an epidemic. Those at risk have to know about the tools, though, and they need honest information about them,” said Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings. “Our campaign provides the truth about PrEP, the information and support to help people get a prescription, and a reminder that condoms are necessary to prevent other sexually transmitted diseases.”
The campaign will include various events and grassroots advertising, in Spanish and English, to reach those most at risk, including:
- Outreach through: community events, Center programs that particularly serve transgender women and young men of color, and the Center’s Mi Centro facility in Boyle Heights.
- Geo-targeted digital advertising and print ads
- “Paint the Town Blue” – On January 8th the Center will launch the campaign in partnership with bars in West Hollywood and Hollywood. Dozens of staff and volunteers will circulate through bars providing patrons with information about PrEP. The blue theme of the night hints at the blue color of the PrEP pill.
- Banjee Ball sponsorship – A vogue dance and runway event with live music performances. A cultural movement birthed out of the Black LGBT community, Banjee Ball has become a cherished space for young gay and bisexual men and transgender women of color.
- Andrew Christian “Fearless F*cker” T-Shirts – An Andrew Christian-designed “Fearless F*cker” t-shirt will be available for purchase at his flagship boutique in West Hollywood. All net profits from the sale of the $25 t-shirt support the Center’s PrEP services.