The first European community center dedicated to the HIV/AIDS prevention pill opens in Barcelona
BCN PrEP·Point follows up with individuals who take the medication “on their own accord” and aims to help research its effects
PrEP – the preventive HIV/AIDS pill – may not be approvedin Spain, yet, but the BCN PrEP·Point center, dedicated to the medication, is already a reality. Opened by the BCN CheckPoint organization, the objective of this Barcelona center is to advance any work possible and provide information on this medication, even before it becomes accessible in Spain.
This is why it will be working at first with those who are taking the pill “on their own accord,” stated Ferran Pujol, director of the BCN CheckPoint, in order to achieve adherence to the treatment. The benefits of the medication would translate in a decrease of infection, which currently sits at 2 per day in Catalonia. Pujol stated that it was necessary to begin working with a tool that would prevent more contagion.
A smaller sample size
It’s calculated that around 100 people will participate in the study promoted by PreEP·Point. With the resulting data, it will then be possible to study the behavior of participants and the effect this has on the number of infections.
The target number set by the Department of Health is set at some 10,000 individuals. Yet, according to the BCN Checkpoint director, this number is too high. Indeed, he stressed that the study sample size must be smaller to verify the effects of the drug, as not all transgender women or men who have intercourse with other men wish to undergo the treatment.
Both Pujol and the medical director of the center, Pep Coll, agreed that 1,700 people would be sufficient, describing previous studies that were done with a size of less than 4,000, and achieving a 90% fall in infection. To obtain this reduction, according to Pujol, “it’s not necessary to immunize the whole population.” Still, he noted that infection is for life, and could cost up to €150,000 in treatment.
“PrEP allows the normalization of not only intercourse - but also, of human interactions with other people”
Ferran Pujol · Director of BCN CheckPoint
The “four pillars” to “reduce the incidence of HIV in the gay community”
The HIV and AIDS health crisis has devastated the world for the better part of 30 years, and the LGBTQ community has been hit particularly hard. BCN CheckPoint, set up in 2006, was the first center in all of Spain “to introduce the rapid HIV test in a non-medical setting.” The community-based center is dedicated to “the detection of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, targeted at gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender women.” As a further part of its philosophy, BCN CheckPoint states that it “approaches sexuality openly, without fears, moral judgments or prejudice.”
In an earlier September press release, the BCN CheckPoint detailed the “four pillars” of its “global strategy to significantly reduce the incidence of HIV in the gay community.” These are, as they explained, increased frequency of HIV testing, access to antiretroviral treatment for those who have been diagnosed, screening and treatment for other sexually transmitted infections, and the PrEP medication.
A controversial treatment
PrEP stands for Pre-exposure Prophylaxis. It’s administered in the form of a pill to be taken daily and works by reducing the chances of infection for individuals at very high risk of contracting HIV. Combining two different drugs - tenofovir and emtricitabine – it prevents the virus from multiplying. When taken properly and as indicated, the medication can reduce the possibility of infection by 90% in sexual encounters.
As many with many preventative measures, there has been some controversy around the release and use of the PrEP drug. The debate stems from the idea that, if one feels safe, one might engage in riskier behavior – in this case, higher-risk sexual intercourse. Yet, a study published in the Journal of the International AIDS society suggests that when taken correctly, the use of PrEP is not only safe – it’s effective, too.
“Normalizing” human interactions
To compare PrEP with other strategies, Pujol noted that BCN CheckPoint’s actions have already yielded a slight decrease in infections due to early diagnosis. It’s estimated that the incidence of HIV in Catalonia, concentrated in the LGBTQ community and in urban centers, affects 0.02% of the general population, but among transgender women or men who have sex with other men, the number is at 2.3%. For those responsible for PrEP· Point, the goal is to reach the same levels of incidence between the two groups. Pujol further considers it “negligence” to let two people become infected every day.
Users of the PrEP treatment, explained by Ferran Pujol, have stated that taking the medication allows them to “normalize” not only intercourse but also human interactions with other people.” The director of BCN CheckPoint notes that after been “30 years” of living in the “shadow of suspicion,” PrEP is allowing this to finally change.
Living with HIV/AIDS
This comes just in time to preface the 14th ‘Jornades VIH’ on November 20. The event is dedicated to the “promotion and quality of life for people with HIV/AIDS,” where individuals who live with the condition can meet and share their stories, as well as attend conferences about the latest advances in cures.