Austin group trying to stop local spread of HIV

New organization hopes to provide anti-HIV drug to those who need it

AUSTIN -- Every year an estimated 4,300 Texans are diagnosed with HIV. It's an important and costly health issue that one Central Texas group says you can help conquer.

The Austin PrEP Access Project is a new local HIV prevention program and hopes their GoFundMe campaign will save lives and money.

For 24-year-old Colton Ferrell, safety is a big part of his sex life.

"I identify as a gay man," he said. "I have been on Truvada since 2014. I guess I feel more protected, definitely."

In 2012 the FDA approved Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to prevent people from getting sexually transmitted HIV. If taken properly, the drug can cut the risk of getting HIV by as much as 90 percent.

"This is the most effective HIV prevention tool we've discovered since condoms. Another thing we're trying to do is make sure that we're talking to medical providers, having doctors talk to each other about this important prevention tool," said Ben Walker, executive director of the Austin PrEP Access Project. The organization's goal is to get anti-HIV medication to as many at-risk people as possible.

The project has started a GoFundme page to raise $25,000 to keep the free clinic up and running for at least a year, as Walker and other volunteers guide patients through the process of getting a prescription, dealing with insurance, or being able to afford it without coverage. Truvada can cost about $13,000 a year.

Dr. Cynthia Brinson, a leading national HIV specialist said, "PrEP works by getting into the tissues and the blood and not allowing the virus to replicate."

Dr. Brinson says other big cities are already funding PrEP clinics. "The city of New York has decided that anyone who wants PrEP the city will pay for, San Francisco has reduced it's infection rate last year by 14 to 17 percent by starting as many patients as they can on PrEP."

Dr. Brinson and some other healthcare advocates believes PrEP, along with condoms and other safety measures, could dramatically cut the spread of HIV in Austin.

"It's another great item in our toolkit of prevention," Ferrell said.


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