Last Monday, Cornerstone Family Healthcare held their first annual PrEP fest. The event sought to unite the community around HIV prevention in an educational and entertaining manner. In addition, the event was held in honor of PrEP awareness week.
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a pill that is taken once a day. Anyone who is at risk of STDs can take it to prevent HIV.
Featured during the event were various booths. Attendees were given sheets to fill out as they went from booth to booth. With each completed sheet came a free PrEP fest shirt. Attendees were provided information and various trinkets and objects at each booth.
“One of the things we want to make sure we tell people is that HIV is an STD,” said Andre Green, PrEP specialist for Cornerstone. “Some people kind of put it separate. If you’re at risk of getting one, you’re at risk for getting the other.”
Historically, HIV prevention has been surrounded by stigma and stereotypes. One common stereotype is that HIV is a disease that only impacts the LBGTQ community. Although members of the LBGTQ community like gay and bisexual men are at higher risk of being diagnosed with HIV, it isn’t a disease exclusive to anyone.
“That’s one of the things that’s hindering us from stopping the epidemic,” said Green. “It’s for anyone. Anyone who’s at risk, anyone who’s having sex, anyone who’s sharing needles, anyone who doesn’t know their partner’s status is at risk of getting HIV. Unfortunately, they think it’s [only] an LBGTQ issue. When in reality it’s a human issue.”
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, an estimated 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV. One out of eight people do not know they have HIV. Although data shows that HIV infections have declined 18 percent from 2008 to 2014, HIV still continues to exist without an official cure.
To combat HIV and its spread, organizations like Cornerstone take innovative measures. Cornerstone currently has a HIPS program. Ralph Burnett has been the HIPS coordinator for Cornerstone since August. Burnett recruits individuals who are at a high risk of being infected with HIV or any other STDS. Then those individuals help recruit others for testing and preventative measures like PrEP.
“It’s an effort to end the epidemic by 2020,” said Burnett. “That’s what we’re doing here.” HIPS is one of many efforts that focuses on helping achieve the points established in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic plan. Ending the Epidemic is a three-point plan that was established in 2014. The goal is to achieve the first ever decrease in HIV prevalence in New York state by 2020.
According to Gay Men’s Health Crisis, New York State currently leads the nation in the amount of new HIV cases. In 2014, there were more than 2,100 new diagnoses. More than 125,000 New Yorkers are living with HIV/AIDS. Nearly 20 percent do not know they are infected. More than 100,000 New Yorkers have died from AIDS related causes.