Florida health officials announced that all health departments in the state will be offering free PrEP, a once-a-day pill that when taken routinely will prevent a user from contracting HIV, by the end of 2018.
The initiative was initially set in motion last October, and is part of the department's efforts to reduce new HIV diagnoses in Florida, which has been leading the United States in new HIV cases for many years.
The state had the second-highest rate of new HIV diagnoses among adults and adolescents in 2015, with 4,849 in the city of Miami alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, Miami-Dade and Broward counties were number one and two in the country for new HIV diagnoses, while the Orlando metro area ranked sixth.
Despite the CDC's report that if the current rates continue, one in 54 Floridians will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, very little has been done to combat the rising numbers. Years of cuts to the state’s health department made it harder, reports Orlando Weekly.
Though 16 county health departments have been providing PrEP services throughout 2016, the agency’s Surgeon General and Secretary, Celeste Philip, announced that all 67 county health departments will have PrEP available by the end of 2018.
"Ensuring PrEP to those at highest risk for HIV infection, regardless of their ability to pay, is one of the four key components of the agency’s plan to eliminate HIV transmission and reduce HIV-related deaths," Gambineri said in a statement.
Now, those in need of PrEP will be clinically evaluated and provided access to medication based on their eligibility, which includes financial status. The initiative also includes an education on the drug, HIV testing, hepatitis C testing, liver function test, prescription of PrEP medications and a three-month follow up after PrEP initiation.
The state’s health department is also boosting access to routine HIV and other STI screenings, increased testing for high-risk populations and providing immediate access to treatment for HIV-positive people, use of PrEP and PEP medications to reduce risk of transmission, and will increase community awareness about the virus overall.