In 2016 the state was only second to Georgia for the highest number of new HIV diagnoses. The rate of new cases was 29.7 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One out of five people do not know they are infected in Louisiana.
If current HIV diagnoses persist, one in two black men who have sex with men (MSM) and one in four latino MSM will contract HIV in their lifetime, according to CDC data.
Although highly treatable, the virus which attacks the immune system as it progresses into Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), can also be prevented.
First approved in 2012 a medication called PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis, has been marketed to patients who are at substantial risk of HIV infection. The medication has shown to reduce the risk of HIV transmission by up to 92 percent, according to the CDC. PrEP has also been marketed in New Orleans, but health workers have found several barriers that have made it difficult to access high-risk patients locally.
“There is still so much stigma surrounding HIV in general. Patients feel ashamed to come to their doctor to ask for PrEp. Some people feel that they can’t afford it,” said Dr. Stacy Greene, the Associate Medical Director at St. Thomas Community Health Center. He is also an infectious disease expert.
St. Thomas Community Health Center and CrescentCare are two of the largest providers that can prescribe PrEP in New Orleans.
This weekend, St. Thomas Community Health Center along with the Bureau of Infectious Diseases for the Louisiana Department of Health will host a two-day symposium for primary care givers and health workers on the subject of PrEP and the HIV epidemic in Louisiana, offering information about the high-risk populations in Louisiana that would benefit from the medicine, how they can cover the cost of the prescription, and how to implement an HIV prevention plan.
The event is open to primary care physicians, health workers and individuals interested in learning more about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Louisiana and will take place at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans on Fri. March 2 to Sat. March 3 at 8 a.m. A link to the agenda is available here.
“Despite low awareness, primary care providers are already writing more prescriptions for PrEP than are specialists. If more family physicians and other primary care providers feel comfortable prescribing PrEP this strategy for reducing HIV pervasiveness may reach more people who are vulnerable to infection,” said Dr. Greene.
Maria Clark covers healthcare and immigration for NOLA.com | The Times Picayune and NOLA Mundo. Reach her at email@example.com or 504.258.5306.