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How US universities are reducing HIV on campus

This pill is helping prevent the spread of HIV on US campuses. Source: James Sutton on Unsplash

More universities in the US are tackling the spread of HIV by prescribing the PrEP pill, which is 99 percent effective in preventing the infection passing, to make campuses a safer place.

Almost 8,500 people aged between 18-years-old and 24-years-old were diagnosed with HIV in 2016, with gay men at the highest risk.

University culture in the US can increase the risk for the spread of HIV as students can become more sexually adventurous, according to Inside Higher Ed. This may be because students have freedom from their parents’ watchful eyes and are surrounded by other people their own age, often with alcohol thrown into the mix.

To counter the spread of HIV among college students, universities are being educated on how to issue the preventative pill PReP by the American College Health Association.

The risk of HIV is higher between sexually active gay men, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Source: Shutterstock

When taken every day, the pill is 99 percent effective in preventing the spread of the disease, and up to 85 percent effective when taken every three days.

David Reitman, medical director of the student health center at American University said universities often don’t prescribe PReP because they don’t know about it, or they’re misinformed, but more should consider it.

The problem is particularly entrenched in historically black colleges and universities as the culture can discourage discussion about sexual health and HIV prevention, Kim Daly, Health Services Coordinator at Salem State University, explained to Inside Higher Ed.

With over 6,700 people dying of HIV in 2014, there is pressure on universities to tackle the problem and break the stigma, but concerns about side effects and legitimacy hold universities back, say health workers in the institutions.

“Our fear has maybe delayed the action,” said Marcy Ferdschneider, Executive Director of Student Health Services at Columbia University Medical Center.

“It’s the same with the HPV vaccine and what people said — ‘what are we telling people, when we say we’re protecting against a sexually transmitted infection,’ and when birth control pills came out.”

Complications can also arise if students are accessing the drug through third party insurance plans such as their parents or a sponsor. In these cases, health care statements are usually sent to the insurance provider which could lead to parental concern or other unpleasant situations.

Massachusetts has developed a solution to overcome this worry, known as the PATCH, or Protecting Access to Confidential Health Care, bill. This law, passed in April, allows confidential medical information to be sent directly to the patient rather than the insurance policy provider.

Reitman said students can also call the insurance company and reroute the medical note to themselves.

PReP is available through most insurance plans, and university clinicians should be able to provide advice on how to safely take the pill. Courses are usually three months, but in the case universities are closed during that time, universities can provide longer courses with no added side-effects, according to Margaret Higham, Medical Director of Health Service Education at Tufts University.

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