Unexpected Lessons on Preparedness: What PrEP Can Teach Us in the Times of COVID-19
From remembering to wear your mask upon leaving your home to keeping at least six feet apart from others, prevention has become commonplace as communities across the globe have worked to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
While prevention has gained a new spotlight in recent months, it has long been a priority for people at risk of contracting HIV. A large part of my NHC service is with the PrEP program at Sun River Health. PrEP is an HIV prevention pill that is typically prescribed to be taken daily. According to the CDC, PrEP reduces the risk of acquiring HIV through sexual transmission by about 99% when taken as prescribed (1). By taking PrEP, patients make a small, yet significant, daily commitment to their health and the health of their sexual partners in the long term.
There are many lessons we can learn about prevention from PrEP patients. They demonstrate that prevention takes commitment. PrEP requires a daily dose to provide a high level of protection, and COVID-19 prevention requires a similar consistency. The one time someone takes off their mask or attends a large event is enough to allow for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by or to this individual.
Masks are not the only strategy for reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and PrEP is not the only option for HIV prevention. Limiting the number of sexual partners one has, using condoms, participating in syringe exchanges, or even using additional lubricant during sexual activity are all strategies for reducing someone’s risk of contracting HIV (2).
However, not all of these approaches are possible for everyone. PrEP patients often recognize their own limitations. A patient might plan to use condoms but acknowledge forgetting in the heat of the moment or when under the influence. Some patients may rely on being paid for sex as they seek long term financial stability. Others may simply want the reassurance of extra protection. PrEP is an option for most people who are not living with HIV.
There are also several options for reducing the spread of COVID-19. If everyone remained in their homes for months, transmission rates would plummet. However, this degree of restriction is not possible for everyone. Some individuals are essential workers. Others may recognize their own patterns of behavior and acknowledge that they will not stay home for that long.
PrEP patients can teach us that our own limitations and needs don’t have to conflict with prevention. Essential workers wear PPE, as do most individuals leaving their homes. If someone truly cannot wear a mask, then they must stay at least six feet away from others. There are options for prevention, and it is important to choose a combination of methods to which you can commit.
Prevention is empowering. For PrEP patients, it means they do not need to rely on their partners’ honesty regarding loyalty, sexual history, and HIV status. They enjoy an added degree of control over their own health. They commit to their own health and the health of their partners. A similar sense of empowerment is afforded by COVID-19 prevention. There is peace of mind in keeping yourself and your loved ones safe. Both SARS-CoV-2 and HIV are global health crises that have caused immense devastation. An individual’s preventative measures can contribute to a world of difference.
#gettingthingsdone #PreventionMatters #AmeriCorps