Pharmacy Manager at Church Wellesley Health Pharmacy
Harvinder Dhunna, Pharmacy Manager at Church Wellesley Health Pharmacy in Toronto, breaks down what PrEP is and its role in sexual health.
What is PrEP?
It refers to pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a type of medication for those at risk for acquiring HIV from sex or injection drug use. PrEP can be an additional tool in sexual health since it helps prevent HIV, yet a fraction of individuals who are eligible for getting PrEP are actually on it.
Though studies show PrEP can be more than 99 percent effective in preventing HIV, it’s not used as widely as it could be, as you note. Why is that?
PrEP is designed to be simple to take and administer, but it requires a bit of education and understanding for both the patients and their healthcare practitioners. Among patients, there can be hesitation about finding a healthcare professional knowledgeable about PrEP without experiencing stigma. We hear from patients that their regular prescribers don’t realize that they can prescribe PrEP and that they don’t need a referral to a specialist. I’ve also heard occasional stories about healthcare professionals, who say to patients, “Well, just don’t have condomless sex.” That automatically has a judgmental tone to it and dissuades patients to ask for PrEP.
What impact can PrEP have on the LGBTQ+ community?
There’s something to be said about having full knowledge and control over your own sexual health. If you can take the necessary steps towards having access to the products and services available, it can be freeing in and of itself. The goal is to empower people to have safe sex and to take charge of their health.
Facts versus fiction: Learning more about PrEP and HIV prevention
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is changing the game in HIV prevention, yet there are many misconceptions about the once-a-day oral therapies and their role in sexual health. Here’s everything you need to know about PrEP, how it works, and who it’s for.
Myth: PrEP is just for promiscuous gay men
Fact: PrEP is recommended for people with the risk of acquiring HIV, including (but not limited to) men who have sex with men and transgender women, heterosexual women and men who have high-risk exposure, such as having a partner with HIV, people who inject drugs, and people whose condom use is inconsistent. Talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider about your PrEP options.
Myth: These medications alone can treat HIV
Fact: The aim of PrEP is to help stop the transmission among those who don’t currently have HIV. It is a prevention tool designed to maintain your sexual health. When used in conjunction with other HIV treatments, PrEP medications may be prescribed by healthcare professionals as drug therapy for HIV.
Myth: Those who take PrEP no longer have to use condoms
Fact: While PrEP is effective for preventing HIV, it does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections. Healthcare professionals recommend condoms in combination with PrEP medications to guard against STIs.
Myth: HIV transmission isn’t a significant issue anymore
Fact: HIV rates have increased more than 25 percent from 2014 to 2018, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada. In 2019, there were 1.7 million people worldwide newly diagnosed with HIV. Practising safe sex is still an important part of sexual health, as is accessing preventative products and services.
To learn more about PrEP, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
This article was made possible with support from a member of Innovative Medicines Canada.