Thousands of people in our region are now using a powerful prevention tool in the fight against HIV. In the first year of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) being publicly funded by the B.C. government, more than 2,300 people in the VCH region are on the preventive treatment.
PrEP is a pill, taken once a day, that people who are at high risk of getting HIV can take to help prevent HIV infection. When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection by between 92 per cent and 99 per cent.
PrEP is also recommended for other people at high risk of acquiring HIV such as anyone whose sexual partner is living with HIV and is not receiving treatment, and people who share drug injection equipment with a person living with HIV who is not receiving stable treatment.
In Vancouver, men who have sex with men make up the highest proportion of new HIV diagnoses. Health Initiative for Men (HIM), a VCH partnership dedicated to the health and well-being of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, enrolled 955 people on PrEP in 2018 which accounted for nearly half of all PrEP enrollments in VCH.
"Guys on PrEP say they feel more protected now, have less stress and anxiety, and appreciate that it's an easy regime with just one pill a day," says Greg Oudman, Executive Director, Health Initiative for Men. "Since guys on PrEP have to get tested every three months for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as per the Health Canada guidelines, we're also seeing more guys getting tested regularly."
The risk of getting HIV can be further lowered when PrEP is combined with the use of condoms, regular STI testing, and antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV to maintain an undetectable viral load (when the amount of HIV in the blood is too low to be measured). When an HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load the chances of transmitting the virus are considered to be zero.
PrEP medication is available through the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Drug Treatment Program at no cost to qualifying patients deemed clinically at risk of HIV infection. PrEP can be accessed through family doctors, the BC Centre for Disease Control clinics and HIM health centres (www.checkhimout.ca).