As the PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) family of anti-HIV drugs celebrates its 10e anniversary, its success is tempered by the fact that the drugs have been adopted by only a fraction of the people who could benefit from them. According to calculations by ViiV Healthcare, which manufactures the injectable drug PrEP Aprestudy, only 20-25% of potential users of the drug currently benefit from it.
The lack of more widespread adoption of PrEP is one of the causes of the approximately 37,000 new cases of HIV each year in the United States, more than 40 years after the virus was identified as the cause of AIDS.
In order to raise awareness of Apretude and PrEP, ViiV has recruited weird eye star Karamo Brown will lead “People Talk PrEP,” a series of conversations about sex positivity and their experiences with drugs.
Marc Meachem, ViiV’s U.S. external affairs manager, sees Brown as an ideal spokesperson to connect with the campaign’s diverse target audience.
“We’re trying to reach transgender women, gay men of color, gay men in general, and also cisgender women,” he noted. “So there are several communities that could benefit from it. Karamo, who is a known entity and a visible personality and has a history and interest in HIV advocacy, is the perfect person for this.
Meachem pointed to stigma and awareness as two of the main factors that have prevented PrEP from being prescribed more widely. In terms of stigma, he noted that too often having an LGBTQ+ health care provider, or sympathetic ally, isn’t enough. Patients also need to be open about their sexual activities – and for a variety of obvious reasons there can be a reluctance to be completely honest.
As for awareness, Meachem pointed out that for many people, the availability of PrEP is old news, but not common knowledge in all communities.
“We take it for granted, those of us who work, that people know that,” he said.
The campaign tackles another hurdle: remembering to take a pill every day can be difficult, and as a result many people who start PrEP quit soon after. Meachem and ViiV believe that the bimonthly injectable aspect of Apretude is an advantage.
“A long-acting injectable that you can go to every two months is something that for a lot of people is very liberating,” he says. “It’s actually one of the phrases they use a lot: ‘It’s liberating.'”
ViiV has other active campaigns around PrEP. Me in You, You in Me also draws attention to the diversity of communities affected by HIV and who could benefit from PrEP. The campaign encourages conversations about HIV between people from different communities – including its celebrity spokespersons, Tina Knowles-Lawson and Jalen Rose.
Both Knowles-Lawson and Rose spoke to a range of people over the phone, unaware of their race or other characteristics. The calls were part of an effort to end the classification of HIV as a condition that only affects gay men and intravenous drug users.
“What we’re looking for are those surprises and those opportunities to engage people in conversation,” Meachem said. ViiV hopes its campaigns will spur related community initiatives. “We are bringing this language and program to AIDS and HIV service organizations, as well as organizations that work with women’s reproductive health, to help engage, generate this dialogue and increase awareness. to PrEP,” Meachem added.