Almost 40 years ago, cases of pneumonia among previously healthy individuals in Los Angeles, California, marked the first official reporting of what would be later be known as the AIDS epidemic. Soon after, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was identified as being responsible for causing AIDS. This epidemic has affected more than 75 million people around the world. In the United States, approximately 1.1 million people are living with HIV, and 1 in 7 are unaware of their status.
Decades of collaborative, coordinated support and dedication by a resilient global community of people living with and impacted by HIV, advocates, healthcare professionals and researchers have advanced HIV prevention and treatment options. The development of prevention strategies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with anti-HIV drugs has successfully reduced the risk of acquiring HIV. The widespread implementation of this groundbreaking development can significantly slow the trajectory of the HIV epidemic and help bring the epidemic to its end in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend PrEP medications for individuals at risk of acquiring HIV. When taken as prescribed, PrEP medications are highly effective at reducing the risk of acquiring HIV.
Although more than one million people at risk for HIV in the United States could benefit from PrEP, only a small fraction of them receive the medications. Many people do not know about PrEP medications or how PrEP can help them, and many cannot afford to pay for the medicine.
To increase access to PrEP, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched the national Ready, Set, PrEP program. To qualify for the program, participants must test negative for HIV, receive a valid prescription from a healthcare provider, and not have prescription drug coverage.
Recognizing the importance of expanded access to HIV PrEP medications, CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid have donated their dispensing services to HHS. Beginning no later than March 30, 2020, as part of these donations, qualified patients can obtain the PrEP medications at the more than 21,000 combined CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid locations throughout 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands or through mail order—all at no cost to patients. These pharmacies represent about a third of all the pharmacies in the United States. CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid will also provide patient counseling and take steps to promote patient adherence to the regimen. Between now and March 30, 2020 patients will be able to access PrEP medications through this program at thousands of participating pharmacies.
If someone thinks PrEP medications are right for them, they should talk to a healthcare professional or find a healthcare provider using the HIV.gov Provider Locator. People can find out if they qualify and enroll by visiting GetYourPrEP.com, or calling 855-447-8410. Individuals can also enroll in person at a healthcare provider’s office or at a community health center, where trained staff can assist them.
PrEP is a critical component of the Prevent pillar of the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE). To learn more about the EHE initiative, visit HIV.gov and sign up for our listserv to stay up to date on the latest developments.