Sharon Lee is a doctor at Family Health Care, Kansas City, Kan. organization that has created a new weekly clinic to help provide PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) to people that request it, according to Buzzfeed. The PrEP CARE Clinic is meant to expand access to the antiretroviral medication Truvada, which, when used as PrEP, can significantly cut the risk of HIV infection.
The Kansas City Star reported that one of Lee’s HIV-positive patients came to her with the problem of finding a doctor willing to prescribe the medication. This frustration caused Lee to create the Friday clinic.
“I’m sure some doctors may have some misgivings for reasons other than familiarity with the drug,” Lee said, according to Buzzfeed. “Regardless, I was finding folks whose primary doctors were not willing to provide the medicine and there are probably more of those folks out there. There is a need, I believe, for there to be more access to try this prophylaxis.”
The goal of the clinic is to help provide PrEP to people who need it. The clients that go to PrEP CARE Clinic do not become full-time patients of Family Health Care. Instead, clients will be given the prescription to consult with their primary physician. Then the clinic follows the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including extensive testing prior to prescribing the medication and scheduling check-ups every three months for testing and monitoring.
“We want them to be aware this is just one piece of overall prevention strategy and that they should be using condoms and clean needles in addition to the medicine,” Lee reported. “The medicine can’t do it on its own.”
Truvada is taken daily as directed and has been shown to reduce HIV infection by 90 percent, according to the CDC. The CDC recently issued medical guidelines for doctors to prescribe Truvada to patients at high risk to help reduce HIV infection. However, the CDC has also reported that fewer than 10,000 prescriptions have been written since the FDA approved it to be used for PrEP in July 2012.
While there are HIV advocacy groups and public health officials that say PrEP is an important process in fighting the virus and can make significant declines in new infections, critics argue that access to the medication will result in riskier behavior. These critics believe that people will use Truvada, but fail to use condoms, and therefore be at risk for other STIs. Studies have not neccessarily shown this to be true. Another issue is the high cost of the medication, amounting to about $1,300 a month. However it is covered by most insurance programs and can be accessible through an assistance program by Gilead Sciences, the makers of the drug.
Lee has been contacted with numerous calls and letters of support for her work. She anticipates the clinics first clients in the next few weeks due to the amount of inquiring calls about the clinic since it opened on July 25.
“It’s going to take some time,” Lee said. “This new way of doing it as public service has not been picked up on yet, but it will come around. I’m not at all concerned about that.”