Asia Pacific Islanders (APIs) Wellness, a longtime San Francisco leader in HIV/AIDS care and treatment, kicked off National API HIV/AIDS Awareness Day by urging APIs to talk about HIV/AIDS and discuss using Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) with their health care providers. is increasing awareness of PrEP in hopes of increasing utilization of the drug in communities of color.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), daily PrEP use can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent. Among individuals who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70 percent.
CDC added that 66.5% of Asian Americans and 43.1% of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders have never been tested for HIV.
Low PrEP utilization rates are usually blamed on lack of awareness about the drug, misconceptions regarding its affordability, misinformation about its effects, and fear of
community stigma about sex.
API program supervisor Filipino-American Nate Cedilla who has been with API Wellness for nearly 3 years as an employee and from 2008-2010 was a patient as well admits that Filipinos living with HIV still experience terrible stigma.
“In the past, staff has heard stories of clients living with HIV being referred to as “dirty”, “irresponsible”, or “promiscuous”. One major effort we’ve had in reducing HIV stigma is our men’s project, The Connection. The Connection is a community space that fosters trust, care, and friendship for API men who have sex with other men. In The Connection, API men have the opportunity to truly express who they are and how they feel. We build community by taking our guys out on weekend trips, hosting parties, and doing workshops around healthy relationships and their ideal sex life,” rued Cedilla.
Cedilla also noted that one reason that Asian Americans have low testing number is mainly due to a lack of HIV testing programs prioritizing Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander health.
“Asian Americans are often not considered at risk because they do not test frequently. It’s expected that the numbers are low---without specific marketing and testing messaging targeting APIs, our community feels left out and neglected,” bared Cedilla. “As a measure to address this, we are reaching out to other sectors susceptible to HIV begins with talking directly to community members. Public health only works if there is direct feedback from the people impacted most by the issue. For The Connection, we reached out to notable community leaders and past participants to help shape the program. We also have an active volunteer base that helps design, implement, and improve our programs.”
API observes that gay, bisexual, and queer Asian Americans are more open to HIV Testing and accessing services. And their team frequently conducts tests at two gay Asian clubs here in San Francisco: GameBoi SF and Shangrila SF.
“Initially, the club goers were apprehensive about getting tested at the club. Over time, both venues and its their customers have embraced us as a regular feature. We’ve also received copious praise for being at the club and bringing the services out to the community,” Cedilla shared. “PrEP has been available in the US since 2014 as an acceptable prevention measure to reduce HIV infection for those at risk for infection. However, Truvada, the only medication approved for PrEP use, has been available for many years. Prior to its approval as PrEP, Truvada has been successfully used to virally suppress HIV.”
To bolster their drive, API Wellness does routine community outreach for PrEP and since 2015, has advertised its PrEP services and navigation efforts to the LGBT community where they also emphasize the importance of PrEP.
Asked on its possible side effects, Cedilla remarked that some individuals may experience nausea, dizziness, or restlessness when first starting. These side effects typically disappear 2-3 weeks after first starting PrEP.
“PrEP is fairly accessible to those who need it and want it most. Most insurance companies today do majorly cover the cost of PrEP. In addition, several co-pay and drug assistance programs exist that can help individuals start PrEP right away,” Cedilla stated. “Right now, Truvada as PrEP is the only officially approved drug for HIV prevention. Since its approval, on-going studies have taken a look at various gels, shots, and other delivery methods as a biomedical prevention method for HIV.
API Wellness is an LGBTQ and people of color community health center that transforms lives by advancing health, wellness, and equality. It believes everyone deserves to be healthy and needs access to the highest quality health care. At API Wellness, health care is grounded in social justice. With two locations, API Wellness is an anchor institution in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood and a comprehensive health home for the LGBTQ community in the Castro. API Wellness operates a fully licensed, federally qualified health center; runs one of the largest transgender community drop-in centers in the country; and is the premier HIV treatment and care provider for people living with HIV in the Tenderloin. For more information please visit www.apiwellness.org.