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Revealing data shows huge racial divide in HIV prevention meds usage

There are many explanations to these questions that are interwoven into a complex medical system that often fails to educate and respect consumers, nor offers sex-affirmative information about pleasure and prevention.

Additionally, many of people of color report being stigmatized and judged by their providers.  Out of 544 African-American gay/bisexual men surveyed in a study published in the February 2015 edition of the American Journal of Public Health, 29 percent reported experiencing racial and sexual orientation stigma from healthcare providers, and 48 percent reported mistrust of medical establishments. 

“This data is disappointing, but unfortunately it is not surprising,” said Devin Barrington-Ward, an advisor to the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus on HIV.

“First, there still remains a historic mistrust between black people and the medical community. Examples like the Tuskegee experiences, where blacks unknowingly were used as test subjects by the U.S. government to study syphilis and barred access to treatment until 1972, still remain in the minds of many black people,” he said. “Couple this mistrust with the higher rates of uninsured black and Hispanic people, particularly in the Southeast where many states with the highest rates of HIV infection have not expanded Medicaid, you have the perfect scenario where communities of color do not have access to the latest advancements in medicine, including PrEP.”

“If we want to get serious about scaling up PrEP usage in black and Hispanic communities we should first start by putting pressure on the medical community to rebuild trust with communities of color by increased cultural competency and developing a pipeline of more black and brown medical professionals. We should continue to uplift the narrative in states throughout the south that Medicaid expansion is one of the best forms of HIV prevention. We should also look at legislation that is moving through the California legislature, which requires that doctors provide patients with information about PrEP and PEP upon giving an HIV negative test result, as models for other states.”

Given the new data, it is clear now more than ever that PrEP and HIV prevention is a social justice issue.  It is vital that all of us concerned about ending HIV re-examine our role within a context of structural inequities, institutional disparities, and historical travesties. Discouraging or silencing discussions about race and gender is irresponsible and destructive. 

The end of this epidemic lies within our grasp but only if each of us are willing to honestly and frankly examine our role in perpetuating, and changing, these imbalances. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a New York-based marriage and family therapist and HIV prevention specialist who focuses his work on health, social justice, and pleasure. He is best known for championing education around pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the media, and creating, “PrEP Facts: Rethinking HIV Prevention and Sex.

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