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One in four men who have sex with men and use the app Grindr for those purposes reports being on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill regimen that protects against contracting HIV, according to a recent survey.
Grindr, in conjunction with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Gilead Sciences, conducted a survey of more than 4,700 Grindr users about their use of or attitudes toward PrEP. It should be noted, though, that the results should be taken with a grain of salt, as Gilead Sciences is the company that produces Truvada, currently the only pill approved as a form of PrEP.
According to the Grindr, which released the results of its survey on Dec. 1 as part of World AIDS Day, 26 percent of Grindr users reported currently being on PrEP, and another 56 percent say they are interested in taking it in the future. Among all racial cohorts, Latinos were the least likely to be taking PrEP.
The biggest hurdles to PrEP use, as documented by the survey, appeared to be a lack of information or awareness of PrEP — including concerns about side-effects of taking Truvada daily or long-term health effects — and either a lack of information or an unwillingness by health care providers to prescribe or even begin discussions about the possibility of using PrEP. The latter concern dovetails with a recent finding by the CDC that more than 1 in 3 doctors were unaware of or uncomfortable prescribing PrEP to patients at higher risk of contracting HIV, including gay and bisexual men.
According to the survey, Grindr users want more general information about PrEP. More than half, or 51 percent, of those not on PrEP but interested in using it said they didn’t know enough about it. And more than a third, or 37 percent, of those who said they were not interested in taking PrEP attributed their disinterest, at least partially, to a lack of information about the medication or the regimen.
An overwhelming majority of Grindr users said they found out about PrEP from friends, while only about 10 percent heard about it from a doctor. One of the factors contributing to the lack of open conversation with doctors was the degree of “outness” among patients.
While all but 4 percent of those currently on PrEP said they were not out to their doctor, 21 percent of those not on PrEP but interested in taking it said not being out to their doctor contributed to the lack of a conversation. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where there are often a lack of LGBT-competent health care providers or clinics where patients can seek out information. Additionally, 17 percent of those not using PrEP but interested in it said anxiety about having conversations with their doctor about the possibility of taking PrEP was part of the reason they hadn’t started.
Lastly, 1 in 10 survey respondents who were currently on PrEP reported that they had trouble getting their doctor to prescribe it for them. That figure was nearly double for black respondents.
More than 91 percent of respondents on PrEP said they were accessing PrEP through their health insurance, and nearly half of them said they were using Gilead’s co-pay or medication assistance programs. For those not on PrEP but interested in it, nearly a third said that either a lack of health insurance or a plan that would not cover PrEP, even if it were prescribed by a doctor, had contributed to why they were not taking the medication.
In terms of adherence, 90 percent of those on PrEP said they had taken all seven doses over the past week. And large numbers of Grindr users, regardless of PrEP usage or their interest in taking PrEP, said stigma was not a huge factor in their decision.
Based on the survey results, Grindr has since pledged to continue a campaign encouraging its members to find out more about PrEP. Because Latinos were the least likely to use it, Grindr plans to push out more information about PrEP in Spanish. The company plans to launch a mapping project of LGBT clinics in the country where patients will be able to consult with with LGBT-friendly medical providers about the possibility of taking PrEP in an open and affirming environment.
Because PrEP has largely been shown effective in its own right in protecting against HIV, Grindr’s official position is that, when coupled with other prevention methods, such as condoms, PrEP can help protect against HIV and other STDS. Grindr’s founder and CEO, Joel Simkhai, has also been vocal about the importance of HIV testing, and will be among several people featured in the CDC’s upcoming Act Against AIDS campaign, which is designed to reduce the stigma associated with HIV testing and encourage more people to know their HIV status.
“I believe all sexually active gay men should be on PrEP,” Simkhai said in a statement. “It prevents HIV infection. Why wouldn’t you take it?”
See Grindr’s promotional video touting the major take-aways from its PrEP survey below: