PrEP may be increasingly popular among white gay and bisexual men, but the HIV prevention strategy has yet to catch on with Latinos and other LGBTQ people of color.
Anthony Tielemans has been on PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) for three years and looks to National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day—observed each year on October 15—as a time to encourage other Latinos to consider starting the one-pill-a-day regimen. Tielemans is a health education specialist at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Though PrEP doesn’t offer protection from other STDs like condoms do, it’s safe and reduces the risk of HIV infection by up to 99% when used daily.
“Sexual health is not talked about enough in the Latino community,” says Tielemans. “I wasn’t really taught about sexual health and about how to protect myself but now I feel more sexually empowered and at ease.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls (CDC), 25 percent of new HIV diagnoses were among Latinos, yet only 3 percent of Latinos who could benefit from PrEP have prescriptions for it. The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a national survey in 2017 which found that only one in 10 of the Latinos surveyed between the ages of 18 and 30 knew about PrEP and other advances in HIV prevention.
“The first step is just asking about it,” says Brandon Burciaga, a linkage to care coordinator at the Center. “People need to overcome things like cultural stigma, religion, and medical mistrust.”
Tielemans was just 18 when he decided to talk to his parents about going on PrEP. Even though they have accepting of his sexuality, he had to convince them—and later some of his partners—that his decision was not based on wanting free license to be promiscuous.
“I’ve had people call me a PrEP whore or a slut just because I’m on PrEP,” he shares. “I’ve had to tell them that being on PrEP has to do with the fact that I’m taking into consideration their safety and my own.”
HIV diagnosis for white gay and bisexual men decreased by 10 percent between 2011 and 2015 but increased for Latinos by 13 percent, the CDC reports.
“It’s important to take your health into your own hands—that’s what the whole point of PrEP is,” Burciaga says.
PrEP is now covered by most insurance plans. For those without insurance, the Center can help make the medication available through patient assistant program. A free PrEP consultation can be scheduled online at PrEPHere.org or by calling 323-993-8990.