(PrEP)ping for Life
"Three letters took him to his final resting place." Those are lyrics from the ever famous song, Waterfalls by TLC. Upon its release and reign of popularity in 1994 and beyond, I had no idea what three letters could take anyone to a resting place, because...I was 4 four years old (ha). But I heard those words, and I've come to know that the letters were in fact HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
The music video depicts a man who engages in a sexual relationship with a woman and for whatever reason, they make the decision not to use protection. He ultimately contracts the virus and its assumed that he passes away. THIS WAS IN 1994! MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO! THE WORLD HAS CHANGED. MEDICINE HAS CHANGED. But what has not changed is the fact that there are still people who make the same decision that he made in the video. Whether you ultimately contract any sexually transmitted disease or not, most people have made a decision before that could have put them in the same situation as so many people living with HIV today.
Cliche' alert: it's 2017 and HIV is literally not the death sentence that it was even when this music video first came out. Modern medicine has made it to where HIV is completely controllable by taking ONE PILL per day in most cases. Individuals who take their medication properly can literally get to a point where their risk of passing the virus to others is virtually eliminated (viral suppression). An HIV infected person who knows their status, is on care, and is virally suppressed is likely one of the healthiest people you'll meet because they're very aware of their health status as it relates to more than just HIV, but in general. In most cases, they know how to protect you and themselves from harm.
And speaking of ways to protect yourself, its 2017, and there are many ways that you can. Of course abstinence is the most effective method, with condoms coming in at a close second. But in addition to the aforementioned methods, there is "Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day." - CDC. When you read the formal definition it says "people who are at substantial risk" and in most cases means gay men. But in my opinion anyone who engages in sexual activity is at a substantial risk because HIV is not a discriminatory condition. IT AFFECTS EVERYONE!
I'm on PrEP and have been for three years. I literally googled "how to prevent HIV" one day three years ago and found out about the UAB 1917 Clinic. They offer care for individuals who are interested in taking medication to prevent your body from contracting HIV. In my case, I take Truvada, which is a prescribed medication that has been approved for the treatment AND prevention of the virus. I go to appointments every three months and am tested for HIV among other things as a part of UAB's process. I'm not sure how it works for other PrEP clinics but I would imagine that its similar. I also believe that if you have a primary physician who is comfortable and knowledgable enough to prescribe you the medication, you can go that route. Its always an option to consult a facility that does formal clinics on ways to approach your primary physician with the conversation about PrEP. As black people, and I'm black so I can say this (lol), we don't go to the doctor unless our stomach lining is hanging outside of our body. And for my brother and I that never happened, so we never needed to go to the hospital. Thankfully, we were pretty healthy kids. But that is still a problem because it sets a tone for not taking our health seriously. Though my PrEP journey didn't start out as one of health advocacy and regular doctor's visits, it has definitely shifted into it. Even if I was to stop taking the medication today, I am forever changed because I'm not only aware of HIV, but I'm aware of my health as a whole.
P.S. I didn't start taking PrEP so I can be nasty! LOL. But s/o to you if that's your move, no shade. Just stay safe out here in these streets and know that you have OPTIONS!