SF HIV advocates worry Fil-Am community lacks info on PrEP

SAN FRANCISCO — One of the latest tools to help the fight against HIV and AIDS is a drug called prep, or pre-exposure prophylaxis.

This pill, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by as much as 90%, and has been FDA-approved since 2012.

Despite prep’s proven effectiveness over the years, experts at this recently convened forum in San Francisco say communities of color, including the Filipino community are not aware that prep is an option for sexual health.

They blame the marketing efforts behind prep for failing to target minorities.

“When I talk to populations I serve, they don’t see themselves in advertisements. They don’t see themselves in prevention efforts,” said Jorge Vieto, Glide Foundation.

“Our communities don’t feel represented at all. When was the last time you’ve seen an Asian person not only presented in something HIV related, but even in a sexual context, to be honest,” said Tapakorn Prasertsith, API wellness center.

But what does this mean for the Filipino community? Are Fil-Ams in San Francisco really in the dark about prep and its benefits? We decided to find out for ourselves.

We’re here at undiscovered sf, a popular filipino night market where our community gathers once a month for a good time. I’m going to ask some of our kababyans here what they know, or what they don’t know about prep.”

These folks also told us why they think our community lacks awareness about prep, and even awareness about HIV.

“I think how you contract it and the activities behind it, it’s taboo in the Filipino culture,” said Charisse Escanio. “So even though they know that it happens, it’s just one of those things that they won’t talk about.”

“We have a hard enough time talking about kissing,” said Kristian Kabuay. “So imagine talking about something much more intimate.”

Back at the forum on prep, Tapakorn Prasertsith agrees that stigmas around sex and HIV are often obstacles for Filipinos looking to access prep.

Prasertsith says mistrust in new medications, lack of insurance, and fear of how their families will react are among the biggest worries many of his Filipino clients struggle with.

“We get lots of Filipino folk not want to talk to their parents about it. They ask us how we can hide it from their insurance, how they can best hide from their family,” he said. “We’ve had folks say that they’d rather get hiv than come out to their parents.”

At the same time, critics of prep argue the daily pill encourages unprotected sex and promotes risky lifestyles.

But these advocates say their goal is merely to inform communities of color about prep and its benefits, empowering them with as many options as possible for their sexual health.

“Prep is for everyone because HIV does effect everyone. It doesn’t just effect queer folk.”

For more information on HIV, HIV prevention, and prep, visit the center for disease control and prevention website at cdc.gov/HIV.

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