Dr. Judith D. Auerbach (Credit: San Francisco AIDS Foundation)
While the bulk of new HIV infections in the U.S. happen among men who have sex with men, women contribute a significant number of new infections every year; in 2013, over 9,000 women in the U.S. were estimated to have contracted HIV. Yet women at risk for HIV have been slow to adopt pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in order to reduce their risk. Compared to rates of PrEP use by men who have sex with men, which after a slow start in 2012 are taking off -- rates of PrEP use among women still seems to languish. Now, research points to one reason why -- many women may not be aware that PrEP exists and is an option available to them.
To find out if women who could benefit from PrEP know about it, how they're talking about it, and how likely they'd be to take it and under what circumstances, Judy Auerbach, Ph.D., and colleagues conducted a series of focus groups in six different cities in the U.S. Half of groups were in the South and actively recruited black or African-American women, given the higher rates of HIV experienced by this population.
In an article published in AIDS Patient Care and STDs, the research team shared what these women said about PrEP during the focus groups.
While over half (58%) of the participants had ever been tested for HIV, "almost none" of the women had ever heard of PrEP before the focus group session.
Auerbach wasn't necessarily surprised by this finding. She says without hesitation that -- across the board -- there's a lack of awareness about PrEP among women who may be at risk of HIV. "That was the primary finding that came out of our focus group study. Women who you'd define as 'at-risk' in the U.S. had never even heard of it [PrEP] and were actually kind of pissed off that they hadn't."
Many women, once they learned about PrEP and how it worked, reported that they would consider taking PrEP provided that it is covered by health insurance, works reasonably well to prevent infection, and does not cause significant side effects. They also expressed interest in PrEP as a woman-controlled strategy.
"Mistrust of men was pretty solid -- in some groups more than others and in some locations more than others. There was mistrust but also a certain benign acceptance at the same time -- as in, 'They're men, this is what they do. I don't trust him, so I need something that I can use to protect myself,'" explains Auerbach.
This excerpt was cross-posted with the permission of BETAblog.org. Read the full article.