Advocating For Your Health: All About PrEP

I was compensated by Med-IQ to write about HIV. All opinions are my own. This is a sponsored post.

I was in my late 20s. Newly employed WITH insurance, y’all! You couldn’t tell me NOTHING! I was trying to be responsible and do the responsible thing. So, during my annual exam, I casually and confidently asked the nurse practitioner to run my STDs. As she went down the list I added, “and HIV too”.

What ensued was a strange conversation in which this woman asked me why I wanted to be tested (I was in a monogamous relationship at that time but hadn’t had insurance in a couple of years) and follow-up discussions in which I was made to feel as if I had no reason to request one and must be hiding something. Needless to say, I didn’t see her too many times after that (but, when I did, she attributed everything to “intercourse.” That’s a whole other story that I’ll tell you about later).

My next doctor was amazeballs, though. I could talk to her about anything and everything and when the time came for my annual exam, she gave me the paperwork and went about her business.

It’s hard out here in deez single streets. We have to worry about so much, keep so much in mind. Our safety when we go out, our safety when we date, etc. We have to advocate for ourselves everywhere we go.

The HIV diagnosis rate for black women remains 16 times higher than that of white women and almost 5 times higher than that of Hispanic women.

How do I advocate for my health?

I mean, you already know that I’m a big believer in making sure you advocate for yourself medically. Here are 3 things I always keep in mind:

  • Ask questions

  • Take notes

  • Do your research 

We have to teach this early. This past week, I had an interaction with my daughter at the ophthalmologist’s office. Afterward, we talked about it. This was the first time I asked her to explain herself to a doctor. She had been complaining about specific things and I wanted to see how she would behave in this situation. Training, folks. We have to train ourselves to be our best advocate. To understand that we have a say in our healthcare because no one should know you better than you know yourself.

She did great. There was one instance when he misinterpreted what she had said (he asked if she wore her glasses all the time and she said yes, even though she did not but meant that she wore them when she was supposed to). I slid into the conversation and corrected. But, I had to do that 2 more times before he heard me and repeated back what I said. It’s important. 

I want her to see the behavior modeled so that she can do a good job when she has to step in with a medical professional on her own.

We already have to deal with so much bias stepping into these spaces. I told her that she is the subject matter expert on herself and that she shouldn’t’ feel shy or embarrassed when talking about anything going on with her body.

This was a first session and I hope to continue to do this with her as time goes on.

My situation with the nurse practitioner happened many, many years ago. I think our conversation might go a bit differently if it happened today. I am a bigger advocate of myself and I am also more aware of the risks, the stats and what it means to me. Some things have improved since then. Diagnoses of HIV in women have declined. However, the big flag for me is that black women are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to other races/ethnicities.

Of the total number of women living with HIV at the end of 2015, 59% were African American, 19% were Hispanic/Latina, and 17% were white.

That’s a huge number, y’all! 

What Can We Do About It?

I recently heard the word PrEP for the first time and did not know what it was. I don’t know if you know but I got the lowdown for you: PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It’s an HIV preventative medicine for people who are at substantial risk of getting the virus. Have you heard about it? Have you had a conversation about your risk/exposure with your medical professional? I don’t know about you, but I want this info in my hands when I do. 

I go back to my 3 things to remember when you advocate for yourself: ask questions, take notes, do your research.

Here’s a little help in the third category (you’re welcome):

  • PrEP is a daily medicine you can take to reduce your chance of getting HIV

  • Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%

  • Combining PrEP with using condoms and other prevention methods can reduce your risk even more than taking PrEP alone

  • Here’s more info on how PrEP works

  • Here’s a list of side effects:

    • Common side effects include nausea, headache, upset stomach and fatigue but these typically subside over the first month of taking PrEP.

    • Rare side effects include kidney and bone problems.

You should consider PrEP if you:

  • Have an HIV-positive partner

  • Have multiple partners, a partner with multiple partners, or a partner whose HIV status is unknown AND they also:

    • Don’t always use a condom for sex with people who inject drugs, or

    • Don’t always use a condom for sex with bisexual men  

Want to know how to determine your risk level? Check out the CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool.

Need to find a PrEP provider near you? Click here.

I hope that helps and takes away some of the overwhelming feelings surrounding HIV prevention.

Med-IQ is currently conducting a survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes more education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are anonymous and will be shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide us with important information about how women communicate with their physicians about their sexual health. The insights gained from the survey will be used in an educational tool to provide information that may be useful in keeping the lines of communication open with healthcare teams.

Once you've completed the survey, you’ll be asked to provide your email address if you’d like to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 8 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize.

So tell me, had you heard of PrEP before? Did this information help? 

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