I started working in the field of HIV in 2009. In these few years, I have gone through various positions, from testing counselor, to HIV prevention health educator, to HIV treatment educator, patient navigator, retention specialist, and currently, as HIV research coordinator. Yet, all of these roles combined, could not prepare me for what I would learn from being on PrEP. Because of my experiences in these positions and with the PrEP clinical trial I am on, I have come to realize that my heart lies in the education and provision of options for women. Current, and comprehensive information along with details of the options at hand are fundamental for women to make the best choice they can regarding their own bodies. Even then, the best decision may not be one that is easy to carry out or one that women can exercise without consequence.
I often encourage women to enroll in PrEP clinical trials as another method for them to protect themselves against HIV. In August 2015, I decided to push myself to become involved in a PrEP clinical trial. I did this for a couple of reasons. I wanted, first, to contribute to the limited research of women on PrEP, and second, to be able to provide first-hand knowledge and experience to the women I encourage to sign up for clinical trials, and lastly, to make women more visible in research, especially PrEP research.
The trial I enrolled in is a tolerability study for an injectable version of PrEP. Deciding to take PrEP orally as a lead-in to the injection was one thing, but getting to my appointment for the first injection was truly something else. Although it took me giving myself a 20-minute pep talk in my car right outside the clinic, I am, without a doubt, glad I followed through.
To my surprise, I have no complaints. I have had zero side effects. I have learned so much about my body and what it means to me to be able to protect it. I have learned what it is to exercise my right, and that of other women, to be on PrEP. I have also, unfortunately, seen that education is still desperately needed for those unfamiliar with HIV and PrEP. Because I participated in this trial along with the few other women on the study, researchers have seen key differences of PrEP in the bodies of women versus in the bodies of men that will need to be taken into account when this version of PrEP becomes widely available.
I encourage women, now more than ever, to look into clinical trials, not only for themselves, but to continue adding to the HIV prevention toolbox that currently exists. I encourage women to participate in PrEP research to continue to pave the way for women in the future to have control over their bodies, and over their health. I cannot wait to take this experience with me onto future positions, where it will inform my continued advocacy for women.
Maureen was raised in, and still reigns in, Los Angeles. She works as an HIV service provider and is on PrEP.
[Note from TheBodyPRO.com: This article was originally published by HIVE on Sept. 22, 2017. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]