NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Louisiana doctors say there is a powerful tool to protect against HIV, but many people don't know about it.
"We have the third-highest rate of HIV as a city in the country, first being Miami, then Baton Rouge, then New Orleans," said Dr. Jason Halperin with NO AIDS Task Force.
That's why he and Tulane HIV specialist Dr. Nicholas Van Sickles are working to change that. They're part of a new campaign to get the word out to both medical providers and patients about a pill, that if taken daily, is more than 90 percent effective at preventing HIV infection.
"I have patients that say to me, 'how did I not know about this? This is so unfair.' We need to be educated, and that is so true, and that's why we are working with the Office of Public Health in New Orleans to educate physicians as well as the community about the importance of being on PrEP," Halperin said.
"Given the rates of HIV, AIDS, and STIs in our community, it is overwhelmingly important both here, Baton Rouge, actually across the whole state. I mean, I think the South has the highest rates of people having complications from HIV and AIDS in the nation," said Van Sickels.
It's called PrEP or Truvada and it's prescribed for those who are HIV negative but who are at risk of contracting the disease.
"If taken correctly, it works really well to prevent people from getting HIV amongst all risk groups. It's been studied in men who have sex with men, heterosexuals, and injection drug users," said Van Sickels.
Lester Perryman is on PrEP and is also working with a LGBT advocacy group to educate the community about it.
"Part of the problem in the African-American community is no one talks about this as much as we need to be talking about it, so, we've been working on some stuff that we hope to launch in the near future to get everyone informed about PrEP and provide people the tools and resources to get it," said Perryman with the Human Rights Campaign.
Doctors recommend that patients use PrEP along with condoms, because the medication doesn't prevent other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy and it's not 100 percent effective at preventing HIV. Both New Orleans physicians we talked to want people in Louisiana to know it's available.
"It's the first thing we have in addition to condoms to really help the population prevent themselves from getting HIV," said Van Sickels.
Van Sickels said Medicaid and most private insurance companies cover PrEP. If you don't have insurance, he said there are groups in New Orleans that help patients with medications and medical care at little or no cost.