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‘Uptake is only the first step’ for effective HIV PrEP protection


Script vs. follow-up

This approach is common, used in places like New York City and San Francisco. So once it was set up Allmacher sat back and waited to see how the program helped clients protect themselves from HIV.

Of the 451 clients eligible for PrEP in 2019, 336 were gay and bisexual men, 6 were transgender women, 61 were heterosexual, cisgender men, and 48 were cisgender women. One transgender man also screened as eligible. Allmacher did not break down data by race.

Uptake was high: 70% of all eligible clients did receive a prescription for PrEP, either generic tenofovir disoproxil fumarate/emtricitabine (Truvada) or tenofovir alafenamide/emtricitabine (Descovy). And uptake was high among people most at risk: 80% of gay and bisexual men who were eligible got a prescription, 60% of eligible cisgender women, 50% of the small number of transgender women, and 32.7% of heterosexual cisgender men did as well. The 1 transgender man also received a prescription.

This is a higher rate than found in a recent PrEP demonstration project, which found that despite gay and bisexual men, transgender adults, and Black people having the highest risk for HIV in the US, state health departments were more likely to refer heterosexual adults for PrEP.

That high uptake rate is encouraging, but follow-up? Not so much. After initial intake, clients are meant to return in a month to double-check their labs, ask about side effects, and start their 90-day supply of the medication. But just 40% showed up for their 30-day appointment, Allmacher said. And only one third of those showed up for the follow-up in 90 days.

By the end of 2019, just 73 of the original 451 clients screened were still taking PrEP.

“It was surprising to see just how significant the follow-up dropped off after that first visit, when the patient initially accepted the prescription,” Allmacher said.

And while it’s possible that some clients get their follow-up care from their primary care providers, “our clinic serves individuals regardless of insurance status and many do not identify having access to primary care for any type of service, PrEP or otherwise,” she said.

5 HIV acquisitions

In addition, the program review identified five clients who had been offered PrEP or had taken PrEP briefly who later acquired HIV. Those clients were offered same-day antiretroviral treatment, Allmacher said.

“So we’re finding people who are at high risk for HIV and we can prevent them, but we’re still not quite doing enough,” Allmacher said of those acquisitions. “Clearly we have a lot of work to do to focus on HIV prevention, and we are looking to create a more formal follow-up process” from the clinic’s side.

For instance, clinic staff call clients 1 week after their initial visit to share lab results. “This was identified as a missed opportunity for us to ask about their status, whether they filled their prescription, or if they need further assistance,” she said. “This is an area where our registered nurses are going to be taking on a greater role moving forward.”

Allmacher and team also discovered that, despite PrEP navigators arranging insurance coverage for clients on the day they receive their prescription, sometimes there were still barriers when the client showed up at the pharmacy to pick up their meds. The clinic does not have an in-house pharmacy and does not currently have the funding that would allow them to hand patients a bottle of the appropriate medication when they leave the clinic.

“Navigating the copays and the insurance coverage and using financial assistance through the drug manufacturer — even though we have the support in the clinic, it seems like there’s a disconnect between our clinic and getting to the pharmacy. Not every pharmacy is super familiar with navigating those,” she said. “So we have started to identify some area pharmacies near our clinic that are great at navigating these, and we really try to get our patients to go to places we know can give them assistance.”

A version of this story originally appeared on


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