A new era of HIV prevention is upon us. Pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Canada recently announced it is seeking approval from Health Canada for the use of Truvada as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Better known as PrEP, the new highly effective prevention tool is now on track to be available in Canada.
What will PrEP mean for Canadians? Will its uptake be similarly belated, as it has been in the United States? Or will we recognize and react to the impact that this prevention technology can have on the health of people at risk for HIV? In Toronto, where 80 per cent of new infections occur among gay, bisexual and queer men, and where one in five of that same group already live with HIV, PrEP holds the potential to be a game changer.
The potential for PrEP to prevent new HIV infections is clear. Its use permits a level of personal autonomy over sexual health previously unseen. The question then becomes how to make PrEP available and accessible to those who want it. PrEP will emerge into a healthcare system claiming a patchwork of public drug coverage options that often feel daunting and complex. As HIV service and healthcare providers, it is incumbent upon us to prepare clear guidelines for use, outline options for coverage and access, and promote PrEP to gay men in the same way that condoms were promoted in the early days of the HIV epidemic.
With the looming arrival of PrEP on the tongues of gay men comes an opportunity to capitalize on building excitement around the broader practice of gay men's health. For a long time, sexual health messaging has been focused on condom use, and over the last 15 years we have seen the creeping issue of 'safe sex fatigue'. But the way men have sex with each other is changing, and along with those changes has come a rejuvenated interest in sexual health and HIV prevention. With apps now connecting guys to information and to new partners, and the welcome evidence of undetectable viral loads redefining what qualifies as safer sex, PrEP is poised to arrive into a context ripe for revolution, and excitement about PrEP may be the perfect catalyst.
This will be a pivotal year in the fight against HIV, and the more people involved the better. Education through clear and accurate messaging is a main tenant of the HIV movement, and one that is needed now more than ever. With Gilead's request for approval, the onus now rests with Health Canada to fast-track approval for an HIV prevention strategy that is proven to work. For too long there has been a pill that prevents HIV that was not approved in Canada. With the process now in motion to remedy this situation, the time has come to educate, anticipate and advocate. Update your knowledge and consider whether PrEP is right for you, or someone in your life.
In Toronto, a representative from Gilead is scheduled to attend and say a few words at the upcoming Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life, an annual community gathering that raises support for ACT's vital programs and services. To learn more about the Toronto Walk, check out their website. PrEP will certainly, and rightly so, be the buzz word on Sunday, and ACT staff and volunteers will be in attendance to answer any questions that people may have.
Our window to formally welcome PrEP into Canada and elevate the conversation around gay men's health in Canada starts now.
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