An HIV-infected cell.
An HIV-infected cell.

Most Gay Miamians Aren't on Anti-HIV Drug Because They Don't Know Much About It

Miami-Dade County has one of the highest HIV rates in the nation, and Florida leads the nation in HIV-related deaths. So it's troubling, activists say, that a new survey suggests not enough residents know about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that inhibits HIV transmission.

The data comes from a survey on Grindr, the gay-oriented social networking and dating app. The app polled hundreds of Florida users and dozens in Miami and found that more than 70 percent of Miami-Dade County respondents said they were not taking PrEP. Statewide, that number rises to 77.3 percent.

"I believe all sexually active gay men should be on PrEP, barring, of course, any health risks outlined by a medical professional. It prevents HIV infection," Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai says. "Why wouldn't you take it?"

PrEP/Truvada hasn't been universally lauded in the gay community. Critics such as AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein have called it a "party drug" and suggested it contributes to a rise in unsafe sex practices and helps spread other STDs. It's also expensive, costing $1,300 per month (though most insurance plans cover it). And there could be some long-term side effects of regular use, though those remain unclear. 

Despite those downsides, many public health advocates have pushed for its adoption. The reasons are simple: Studies show PrEP/Truvada is up to 99 percent effective in preventing HIV infection when taken daily. That's led cities such as San Francisco and New York to push for its widespread adoption.

Grindr's study suggests a more troubling reason the gay community hasn't begun taking it regularly: simple ignorance.

More than half the respondents who said they were not on PrEP but wished to take it admitted they still did not know much about the medication, despite the fact Truvada was approved by the FDA three years ago. Another 37 percent of respondents nationwide said they were not interested in taking PrEP because of a general lack of information about the drug. 

Grindr, which recently passed a landmark of 1 million active users every minute, says the results of the survey show that "clearly more work needs to be done" in spreading more awareness and information about the potentially life-saving drug.

Act Against AIDS — a CDC campaign featuring Simkhai that will kick off Monday — aims to destigmatize HIV testing and motivate individuals to get tested in addition to take PrEP. "We all have a role to play in fighting this epidemic," Simkhai says.

Simkhai dismisses criticisms of the drug. "PrEP puts the power of prevention in the hands of the LGBT community. Not only is it a highly powerful HIV prevention tool on its own, but when combined with condoms and other prevention methods, it can provide incredibly powerful protection against STI/STDs," his company says in a statement. 

The new survey was conducted in partnership with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Gilead Sciences (the maker of the PrEP medicine Truvada) and sampled more than 4,700 users throughout the United States.

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