Nashville Mayor Megan Barry will join over 100 participants on December 1 — World AIDS Day — to convene a summit where all involved will commit to end the HIV epidemic in this city.
The mayor, along with the Metro Public Health Department, community leaders, and stakeholders, including the HIV, faith and academic communities, will meet for a daylong event at the Cal Turner Center at Meharry Medical College.
Advances in anti-viral treatment allow persons living with HIV to achieve viral suppression and effectively prevent HIV transmission. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) are effective treatments that can prevent HIV infection for those most at risk. Tools are available that can end the epidemic locally but a plan is required to reach those at risk to stop new transmission of the virus.
Just yesterday in an article titled, "I Couldn't Get PrEP, and Now I'm Living With HIV," Giuliani Alvarenga outlined his personal struggle to continue using PrEP when his underground connections couldn't support him any longer. Self-identified as someone in a "high-risk category for HIV infection," Alvarenga is a queer person of color without health insurance.
I tried getting PrEP through Medi-Cal, but the enrollment process took way longer than I expected. After waiting several months for the government insurance to kick in, I turned to the Los Angeles LGBT Center for help, but I was told that they couldn't write me a prescription unless I had insurance. Even then, I was told, it could take up to another month to get the medication. I thought paying out of pocket might be an option, until I learned that PrEP would cost me $1,500 per bottle. I felt as if my access to this potentially life-saving medicine was being stalled by bureaucratic hoops, and not even the largest LGBT center in the world could help me if I didn't have health insurance.
There are structural barriers in place that ironically keep the most high risk people from accessing services and prevention methods that have been proven to reduce the risk of HIV infection.