Planned Parenthood Los Angeles says it will begin offering two powerful anti-HIV drugs at its clinics next year. The effort will begin at the group's newest health center in West Hollywood, which opened Tuesday.
The reproductive health provider joins 27 public and private health care clinics across the county in providing one or both of these medications to those most at risk of contracting HIV, according to the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
The HIV-preventive drugs include Truvada, a once-a-day pill that drastically reduces the risk of contracting HIV (the process is known as PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), and another medication, a cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs, used for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), that must be taken within three days of coming into contact with the disease.
"We will be providing these services at our sites over time," said Sue Dunlap, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood L.A. "We’re going to start with PrEP and PEP here in West Hollywood, because we know it’s the place where there is the most need."
Planned Parenthood L.A. will offer both drugs at all 20 of its clinics by the end of next year, said Dunlap. The only other Planned Parenthood group in Southern California offering these services is in San Diego. Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties said it's considering adding the service sometime next year as well.
Truvada is intended for those most at risk of getting HIV, which includes gay and bisexual men, especially men of color who have sex with other men. When someone is regularly taking the drug, it fights off HIV before the virus can take hold.
The FDA approved Truvada in 2012, but the challenge has been getting the word out to health providers and consumers who may benefit, said Sonali Kulkarni, who oversees HIV and STD programs for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Any doctor can prescribe the drugs but many don't know about the treatment, while some consumers may not be comfortable asking their doctor for it, she said. A recent CDC survey found that one in three primary care doctors and nurses still haven’t heard of PrEP.
"PrEP is a game changer and it's really unfortunate it's not reaching as many people who could benefit from it," Kulkarni said. "We are in a place where we have a new tool to offer people who are at risk for HIV."
That's why Kulkarni said the county has created a PrEP and PEP provider online directory for those who want to seek out the services. The county is also working to educate health care providers and consumers and it is partnering with private providers to make the drugs available to the uninsured.
Aids Project Los Angeles Helth and Wellness offers Truvada at its health center in South Los Angeles and plans to offer it at a new clinic set to open soon in Long Beach.