HIV “Prevention” Pill is the Latest Controversy on College Campuses

HIV “Prevention” Pill is the Latest Controversy on College Campuses
Susan Dutca-Lovell

The HIV-preventative pill, PrEP (commonly known as Truvada), is making its way across college campuses despite concerns from college health officials. The pill, which "blocks the acquisition of HIV by protecting the cells the virus attacks" has been more frequently dispensed by university health centers since it was approved by the FDA roughly six years ago.

PrEP - which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis - has gained skepticism from college health centers because they "...think it doesn't work, that it can make the virus worse. They think it's too hard to monitor because of the strict follow-ups required, or that it causes privacy concerns when students take it without their parents' knowledge," according to medical director David Reitman. Still, many college-age students should consider PrEP, especially given the number of HIV diagnoses in youth (ages 13 to 24). According to the CDC, in 2016, 8,451 youth received an HIV diagnosis in the United States. Eighty percent (6,776) of those diagnoses occurred in young people aged 20 to 24.

In order for the pill to be effective, it must be taken seven days a week - otherwise, its effectiveness diminishes drastically. Just like birth control pills for women and other contraceptives, PrEP is "relatively new and untried in some college environments," according to Kim Daly, a university health services coordinator. Students who are tested and test negative for HIV are able to get a three-month prescription of PrEP but must return for a check-up to see if they're still HIV-free since the pill can make the virus resistant to treatment if it's been contracted.

College students who take PrEP are still educated on safe intercourse practices, since some may take the prescription as a "green light" to engage in intercourse without proper protection. Reitman suggested that there be aggressive marketing and reaching out to particular student groups as a means of promoting PrEP.

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