The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published some sobering data on one of the world’s most serious health challenges — HIV/AIDS — and how race and ethnicity can have an effect on prevention.
Gay and bisexual men — or men who have sex with men — are among the groups at higher risk for new infections; within that group, black and Latino men are at an even higher risk to contract HIV.
And, yet, they are less likely to take a pill that can dramatically reduce their risk, mainly because they don’t discuss it with their health care providers, according to a study published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a medication that is proven to be 99% effective in preventing HIV infection.
Based on interviews with more than 4,000 men who participated in the 2017 National HIV Behavioral Surveillance survey, researchers set out to understand who is using PrEP, who isn’t, and and why some people are not using it. They found a worrying discrepancy, when it comes to race and ethnicity.
“This type of research is critical to finding — and correcting — missed opportunities to offer PrEP to people at risk for HIV, particularly among African American and Latino gay and bisexual men," Dafna Kanny of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention said, according to Reuters Health.
The findings are staggering: Researchers found that 95% of the white men in the study knew about PrEP, along with 87% of Hispanic men and 86% of black men.
Only 58% of whites said they had discussed it with a health care provider in the past year, while nearly half of the racial minorities had: Only 44% of Hispanics and 43% of blacks said they discussed PrEP with their doctors.
However, as far as taking PrEP, only 42% of white men, 30% of Hispanic men and 26% of black men reported doing it in the past year.
The findings come as LGBTQ-focused health organizations across the country take a moment to observe National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
“It’s important for providers to take sexual histories of gay and bisexual men and to discuss PrEP as an option for HIV prevention with those who could potentially benefit from it,” Kanny told Reuters Health. “These discussions also help to destigmatize PrEP use, which is particularly important for increasing PrEP use among African American and bisexual men.”
Discussion of PrEP use with health care providers proved to be a main factor in an increase of awareness, but still, racial and ethnic disparities remained: Of 2,000 men who talked about PrEP with their doctors, 68% of white men reported using it, while 62% of Latino men and 55% of black did the same.
The researchers noted that the disparity was not explained by a lack of insurance, adding that further studies will be needed to investigate other barriers for PrEP use.
But one conclusion is a no-brainer: To reduce new infections by 90% in 10 years, a goal announced by the federal government in June, efforts to increase PrEP use are paramount.
In 2017, 38,739 people received an HIV diagnosis in the U.S. Overall, approximately 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, and about 15% percent of them don’t know they are infected.