Health Department Taking Action to Reduce New HIV Cases in Hawaiʻi

June 26, 2015, 8:13 PM HST · Updated June 26, 8:19 PM
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By Maui Now STaff

Between 2008 and 2012, there were 456 new HIV cases diagnosed in Hawaiʻi: 77% on Oʻahu and the remainder on the neighbor islands, according to new information released by the state Department of Health.

Health officials say approximately 85% of HIV cases in Hawaiʻi occur in men; and by the end of 2011, there was an estimated 2,200 persons living with HIV in Hawaiʻi.

The Hawaiʻi State Department of Health announced today that it is taking action to reduce new cases of HIV in the state in part by prescribing Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP to uninfected individuals who are at high risk for infection.  PrEP is marketed under the trade name Truvada.

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“PrEP is high-impact HIV prevention,” said Peter Whiticar, Chief of the STD AIDS Prevention Branch of the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health.  “Never before has there been a medication that can help prevent HIV infection.  It’s important to not only care for our ‘ohana who are living with HIV, but also to help prevent transmission to others. PrEP provides another viable means of prevention,” he said.

Hospital lab file photo by Wendy Osher.

Hospital lab file photo Maui Now.

Officials with the Department of Health say they highly recommend the use of PrEP “as an important option to prevent HIV transmission among high-risk individuals, but the decision to use PrEP should be made in collaboration with a medical care provider,” Whiticar added.

The department’s STV AIDS Prevention Branch recently released guidelines on the use of PrEP for HIV prevention to Hawaiʻi’s healthcare providers in an effort to keep pace with national trends.

State health officials say physicians and clinics nationally are starting to offer PrEP to patients who are at high risk. Department officials say “PrEP combined with other effective HIV prevention methods will both prevent HIV infection in an individual and reduce HIV transmission in the population.”

In July 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a once-daily pill, marketed under the Truvada trade name.

According to the State Department of Health, Truvada’s effectiveness to prevent HIV compared with no treatment at all was found to be up to 92% in studies, provided the medication was taken daily. Its effectiveness dropped substantially when the medication was not taken daily. The department also advised that condoms should be used with PrEP.

In addition to PrEP, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis or PEP is another HIV prevention method. PEP is different from PrEP in that PEP involves taking anti-HIV medications soon after exposure to HIV. PEP works to reduce the chance of becoming HIV positive after exposure to the virus by keeping HIV from making copies of itself and spreading throughout the body.

Most health insurance companies in Hawaiʻi cover Truvada for PrEP.

Individuals who want to learn more about PrEP should speak with their medical provider to obtain detailed information on pre-requisite tests and follow-up.

Patients and providers can also learn more at the STD AIDS Prevention Branch website.

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