The Black AIDS Institute of Los Angeles hosted the "Black Lives Matter: What's PrEP got to do with it?" summit on Thursday morning, addressing the disproportionate HIV infection rate of African Americans in L.A. County.
According to studies presented by the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health, African American men have an HIV infection rate 8 times higher than the county average, while African American women are infected at twice the average rate.
Based on location, the Public Health Department's Service Planning Area 6–which includes Crenshaw, Florence, Hyde Park, and Watts–has the second highest diagnosis rate. But while rates are decreasing in other areas, preliminary data presented at the summit suggests South L.A.'s HIV-infected population is on the rise.
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PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis drugs, speakers at the summit said, offer a way for high-risk individuals to prevent themselves from contracting the virus in the first place.
High-risk individuals, according to Dr. Anthony Mills, Medical Director of Southern California Men's Medical Group and Executive Director of Men's Health Foundation, are those who are not yet infected with the virus, but either use drugs intravenously, have recently been diagnosed with other sexually transmitted infections, or have had unprotected sex with male sexual partners who either have HIV/AIDS or have not recently been tested.
HIV infection rates in L.A. County have decreased 16 percent from 2,161 cases diagnosed in 2010 to 1,820 in 2013 according to the latest Los Angeles County Department of Public Health report from 2014.
Speakers at the summit emphasized that much of the reason for the still-high occurrence is that people are taking neither the preventative medication nor preventative actions.
"There is a sense that HIV is not a problem anymore," said Mario Perez, a representative of the L.A. County Department of Public Health. "In fact we have more people with HIV in L.A. County than in the history of the epidemic."
Phil Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute discussed the importance of instilling strong medical behaviors in patients who are at risk for or are already infected with HIV.
"Our agenda, frankly, is not to necessarily encourage people to be on PrEP," Wilson said. "Our agenda is to make sure that people have all the tools available, that they have access to those tools, and that they properly utilize those tools."
Although doctors recommend that PrEP be taken seven days a week for optimal effectiveness, four weekly doses can decrease the risk of contracting the virus at almost the same rate of nearly zero cases per one hundred people per year.
Wilson, who has been living with HIV for over thirty-five years and has had what he called "full-blown AIDS" for over twenty-five, used an analogy to compare the action of managing his virus, with the action of others taking preventative measures against HIV and AIDS infection.
"Not one of those pills has the ability to get into my body without my assistance, okay? The pills are biomedical. What I do is behavioral," Wilson said. "The conversation is about the marriage between the entire biomedical toolbox and the entire behavioral toolbox and that's the conversation that we're trying to have."
The Black AIDS Institute of Los Angeles will hold its next meeting on April 19th in the FAME Corporations conference room on West Adams Boulevard. Further details on the event will be posted on Twitter.
Reach Reporter Etienne Smith here.