Are you worried that you might be at risk for HIV? AKeem Rollins, MetroHealth PrEP Navigator, spills the tea about the ins and outs about how to best take care of yourself with PrEP.
AKeem knows what he’s talking about when it comes to PrEP and HIV education and awareness.
“The passion for helping educate youth about PrEP is the root, and the work is the leaves of the tree for me,” AKeem said. “My passion started when I was 15 years old, not even knowing what sex education really was because no one talked about it. My family didn’t even talk about it, especially after I came out that I am gay.”
AKeem would ask his mom questions and she would respond, “I don’t know, I’m not gay.” That left him with even more .
“I was curious, just like any other teenager. I ended up joining a group called Street Crew, where teens would meet weekly to talk about condoms, sex, HIV, STIs, and disease prevention,” he said. “My passion grew from the hunger of wanting to learn more and more and spread the word.”
AKeem went from passing out condoms down the streets of Cleveland, to working as an HIV Test Counselor. Now, he just wants to keep the convo going, and teach everyone, especially youth, about PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, so they know how to best protect themselves.
What is PrEP and why do you need it?
If you think you might be at risk of becoming infected with HIV — but you’re not infected already — you really need to know about PrEP. PrEP is the once-daily use of one of two medicines, Truvada or Descovy, by an HIV-negative individual to significantly reduce their chances of becoming infected by HIV. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is proven to be up to 99% effective at preventing HIV infection!
If you’ve ever heard a condom called a “prophylactic,” you already have an idea of how PrEP works. To put it bluntly, PrEP is like a condom for your immune system.
It’s a chemical barrier scientists designed for one specific job: protecting certain immune system cells against attacks by HIV. It does not protect someone from any other STI, only HIV, AKeem said.
The most obvious candidate for PrEP is an HIV-negative person with an HIV-positive partner.
“I get it, no one wants to take a daily pill when they aren’t even sick, but this daily pill will help prevent you from getting HIV. HIV may not be killing lots of people like it was in the 80s and 90s, but it’s still doing a number on people. It’s still giving people months of diarrhea,” AKeem stresses. “I know plenty of kids in the LGBT community are not afraid of HIV, and they think those with HIV are perfectly fine. But they aren’t thinking about how those people living with HIV are taking care of themselves every day. I mean, even Beyoncé isn’t perfectly fine.”
PrEP is a huge part of that self-care. If taken correctly, AKeem said PrEP can reduce your chance of getting infected by up to 99%.
If there is one thing AKeem wants you to take away from reading this, it’s debunking those PrEP myths.
“First off, PrEP is safe!” AKeem said. “People think some crazy stuff like it’s going to shut your kidneys down, or it’s going to make your bones brittle. Those things are not true. It’s generally safe, and typically 8% of people or lower experience side effects.”
Other myths include:
- PrEP is only needed for gay people or certain sex positions.
- Not true! Risk of HIV doesn’t discriminate when it comes to your sexual orientation or sex position.
- If I start taking PrEP, I will have to take it for the rest of my life.
- Talk to your doctors about stopping PrEP if you’re single or in a monogamous relationship with a partner who is HIV-negative.
- Taking PrEP will make me HIV positive
- Not true at all! It’s only possible to test positive for HIV if you’ve been infected with the disease.
One last myth AKeem wants to debunk is that you can’t get your primary care provider to prescribe your PrEP.
“You absolutely can have your doctor prescribe you PrEP. If they try to refer you to someone else, tell them ‘No, you’re my PCP. Please prescribe it to me,’” AKeem said. “You do not have to go to an infectious disease doctor to get PrEP prescribed to you.”
Unfortunately, a lot of times doctors will refer you to someone else to get PrEP because A) they don’t know the protocol, or B) they might not want to go through the extra work.
AKeem doesn’t only educate youth, but also primary care doctors about the importance of prescribing PrEP.
AKeem hopes you understand that no matter what, you aren’t alone.
“Have any questions? Feel free to hit me up. You can literally ask me any question you want, no matter how you ask it. No judgment, just answers,” AKeem said.