Addressing the HIV/AIDS Challenge Through Prevention and Partnerships
Since the discovery of the HIV virus nearly 40 years ago, there have been vast improvements in both treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Brandon Weeks is a Baton Rouge-based primary care physician specializing in HIV/AIDS prevention and care within the LGBTQ+ community.
And yet, these conditions remain far too prevalent across the country, with an estimated 38,000 new HIV infections occurring in the U.S. each year. Unfortunately, our community has been on the front lines of this ongoing challenge, since Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation for highest HIV case rates.
Prevention is key, and more achievable than ever. A central component of HIV prevention services is PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) — a proven preventive measure for individuals who do not have HIV but are considered at high risk for contracting the virus. Ochsner Health is making preventive HIV treatment more accessible by offering HIV PrEP services at Ochsner Health Center — Tchoupitoulas, in New Orleans.
Individuals taking PrEP take a daily dose of Truvada, a medication that helps block transmission of the HIV infection from bodily fluids. Additionally, patients commit to regular follow-ups every three months with a healthcare provider. PrEP is recommended for individuals who are HIV negative but have a number of risk factors, including having a partner whose HIV status is unknown and those in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV positive partner who does not have the condition under control with daily antiviral medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when taken consistently, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by more than 90%.
Another vital tool in the strategy to combat HIV and AIDS is testing. People infected with HIV, particularly in its early stages, may be unaware of their condition and therefore more apt to spread the disease. The need for increased testing within our community is clear: Testing reveals an HIV diagnosis in people who had no idea they were positive. Under the leadership of Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, several area hospitals, including Ochsner Medical Center — Baton Rouge, have adopted “opt-out” emergency room HIV testing. Under the initiative, patients seeking emergency care are automatically tested for HIV as part of routine blood draws, unless they decide to opt out of the test. Once a patient learns they are HIV positive, Ochsner’s patient navigator helps connect the individual to the necessary treatment regimen. The goal, and often result, is bringing the disease to undetectable and non-transmittable levels. In addition to Ochsner and other local hospitals, initiative partners include the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, the Louisiana Department of Health and Gilead’s FOCUS public health program.