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Dr. Sarah Calabrese: Stigma may keep women from using HIV-prevention drugs

Stigma may keep women from using HIV-prevention drugs

Originally posted on Reuters 6/14/18:

(This June 14 story revises paragraph 2 to correct the number of women using PReP; revises paragraph 11 to remove a reference to a video that wasn’t part of the study.)

By Shereen Lehman

(Reuters Health) - Fear of others thinking they’re promiscuous, or that they’re already infected with HIV, is a barrier to many women who might benefit from pills that help prevent the infection, a U.S. study suggests.

About 200,000 U.S. women are thought to be strong candidates for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, but only about 50,000 have ever used the pills and only about 3,000 are presently using them, the study team writes in Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

“Negative social attitudes about PrEP, including stereotypes about PrEP users, have the potential to discourage women from considering PrEP as an option for themselves,” lead author Sarah Calabrese, a psychology researcher at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told Reuters Health in an email.

“It is important for us to understand women’s negative attitudes about PrEP so that we can correct misperceptions and promote a more positive image of PrEP.”

The study, part of a larger project aimed at optimizing PrEP service delivery at Planned Parenthood, explored stigma as a potential barrier to PrEP use by women because early focus group research had suggested this may be an issue, Calabrese noted.

“Currently, there is one form of PrEP available in the U.S.: a once-a-day pill. When taken as prescribed, it can be over 90 percent effective in preventing HIV,” she said.

One reason that PrEP is an especially exciting option for women is that they can use it to protect themselves from HIV without the knowledge or consent of their sexual partners, Calabrese said.

“Some women may decide that PrEP is not for them, but all women should at least know about it so that they have the opportunity to make that decision,” Calabrese said.

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