#ItFeelsGood PrEP campaign image courtesy of APLA.
HIV prevention for the Long Beach community just became a whole lot more robust, thanks to the announced opening of AIDS Project Los Angeles’ (APLA) newest location at the St. Mary Medical Center campus on Elm Avenue, and the organization’s campaign, dubbed "#ItFeelsGood," to expand awareness of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.
Given the 50 percent mortality rate among those afflicted by HIV in Long Beach, according to The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, LGBTQ leaders in the city are pleased with the new addition. The more HIV resources the merrier, according to officials at The Center.
“As research has demonstrated, LGBTQ people continue to face a number of disparities in accessing healthcare,” said The Center’s Executive Director Porter Gilberg. “Any addition to our community being able to access more services is obviously welcome.”
The APLA Long Beach location will provide services to the community for free or on a low-cost, sliding scale, stated an APLA release. Services provided include:
- Primary medical care (with an exam and treatment room)
- Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) counseling and management
- HIV testing and STD screening and treatment
- Health insurance enrollment assistance
In addition to providing access to PrEP, APLA is also focused on a large-scale campaign to educate the community about the drug.
PrEP is a pill individuals can take to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. When used in conjunction with condoms, the pill is 99 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission, according to APLA.
In June, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan that would make a daily pill designed to reduce the risk of contracting HIV in high risk communities available to community members throughout the county. Until that point, the pill had only been delivered in small pilot programs.
“We wanted the ads to have a positive tone and message, while also delivering information that makes it easy for people who have questions to get answers,” said Terry Smith, associate director of prevention at APLAHealth & Wellness, in a statement. “PrEP awareness is on the rise, but many individuals still don’t know there’s this important HIV prevention tool and that they may easily be able to get it through a medical provider. Removing barriers to PrEP access is very important in the fight against HIV.”
While numerous HIV/AIDS organizations have stood in support of PrEP, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein objected, calling PrEP a “party drug” that at-risk users would neglect to take properly.
Long Beach leaders familiar with communities at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS disagreed.
Gilberg said the city would welcome the drug with open arms. According to Gilbert, Long Beach experiences HIV infection rates “nearly twice the county average.”
Overall, the new center will eventually expand to include a laboratory, phlebotomy room, counseling rooms, full reception area for patients, dental clinic, restrooms and medical room, with construction slated to be completed this spring.
“Providing excellent culturally competent care is a community effort, and we are working with other key partners, including service providers, the Long Beach Health Department, and elected officials to expand access to these critically needed services,” said Thompson in a statement.
In an interview last year, The Center’s Director of Health and Wellness, Ismael Morales, underscored the need for preventive services, screening and treatment options for the LGBTQ community.
“Based on the city’s report, [there are] about 3,126 people living with AIDS since 2013,” said Morales. “It’s important to note, however, that AIDS is disproportionately impacting the Black and Latino communities in Long Beach. It’s equally important to note that there have been (since March 31, 2014) 1,593 cumulative cases of HIV in the city also mostly white, men who have sex with men.”
“We look forward to working with APLA to ensure that our community is aware of these new services and that we continue to work as partners for our shared communities,” said Gilberg.
APLA is located at 1043 Elm Avenue.