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Los Angeles County Votes to Implement PrEP Program

June 17, 2015

In a nearly unanimous vote last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion that will require the Department of Public Health and the Department of Health Services to develop and implement a comprehensive program to distribute pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) throughout Los Angeles. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl introduced the motion, which received a yes vote from four of five supervisors, with one abstention.

Kuehl's motion acknowledges that Los Angeles County has had the second largest HIV epidemic in the U.S. for over three decades, and disproportionately affects gay men, blacks, Latinos and transgender individuals. The motion has five main goals, which are in line with the National HIV/AIDS strategy, the first of which is to eliminate new HIV infections in Los Angeles County.

The motion also says that any PrEP program must be part of a comprehensive public health HIV prevention strategy, including addressing access issues for marginalized populations.

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Ken Almanza, an Angelino who has been on PrEP through an adherence study for a year and a half, said he had never seen the boardroom as packed with bodies as it was on the day of the decision. In the crowd were advocates of many races and genders, and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in full regalia.

Almanza was struck that people would come to the long board meeting. "It's six hours of sitting, sitting to make public comment about something that's near and dear to your heart," he said.

"In that board meeting you're not supposed to clap, but at the end when that motion passed, everyone -- it was like a roar of clapping, it was crazy," he said. He added that Supervisor Kuehl was smiling.

According to Almanza, "[Kuehl]'s for the people. She's an open lesbian herself and she's been really supportive of this motion and brought it to the attention of the board and I thank her for that."

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) applauded the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in a press release.

"This is a significant step forward in the fight against HIV in the Los Angeles County," said Craig E. Thompson, APLA's chief executive officer, in the press release. "We commend Supervisor Kuehl for her bold and decisive leadership to ensure that PrEP is accessible to all Angelinos, regardless of health coverage, income or immigration status."

"Today's action by the Board of Supervisors meant that these communities will have access to this important HIV prevention tool," said Vallerie Wagner, APLA Health & Wellness' chief operating officer, in the APLA press release.

The decision was made on the week of Los Angeles County's LGBT pride celebration, where Almanza says the word about PrEP was indeed spreading.

"At pride, there was a lot of 'I've heard about it, I've heard about it!' So it's a lot of hearsay and a lot of myths and a lot of stigma," Almanza said. "Just being in the study and being a PrEP advocate myself, it's nice to be able to correct those myths."

Almanza, a gay Mexican-American, believes that the PrEP program may also help Latinos in Los Angeles, but that there are structural problems to be addressed, as well.

"There's a lot of cultural constructs that limit the use of PrEP in the Latino community, the first being that we're not used to taking pills, we're not used to going to the doctor. And right off the bat, documentation status," he said.

According to the approved motion, the Department of Health has 30 days to report back to the Board of Supervisors with a written report on details of the program's implementation and 45 days to connect with private sector medical services to improve PrEP delivery in Los Angeles.

Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @mathewrodriguez, like his Facebook page or visit him on his personal website.


Copyright © 2015 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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