OAKLAND (KCBS)— Oakland is ground zero for an ambitious effort aimed at reducing the rate of HIV infection in young gay men of color.
Clinical trials are underway of an FDA-approved therapy for prevention of HIV infection. Since January of 2010 the Downtown Youth Clinic has kept busy.
“We have gotten an average of six to seven new referrals of HIV positive youth every month,” said Michael D’Arata, the director of clinical services for the clinic.
Part of the reason for increasing numbers is more testing while the other is an increase in high-risk behavior.
Co-Medical Driector of the East Bay AIDS Center, a department of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Dr. Jeff Burack, explained a new clinic called CRUSH (Connecting Resources for Urban Sexual Health), which expands services to youth who are HIV negative.
“The most exciting is called pre-exposure prophylaxis and that’s the use of HIV medications to treat someone who is HIV negative to prevent them from getting infected in the first place,” Burack said.
The daily anti-retroviral medication is Truvada by Gilead, which was approved last year by the FDA. The California HIV/AIDS research program is funding the service.
Burack said the medications for pre-exposure prophylaxis are being provided for free. According to him, when the drugs are taken properly they are 90 percent effective, but young people can find it tough to take medicine on a regular basis, so the clinic offers individual support through a one-on-one peer advocate.
According to the clinic the support comes in the form of daily phone calls; check ins to see if there are problems with them taking their medication and even seeing how things are with their clientele’s boyfriends.
A possible driver of the current rising rate among young gay men of color is that some may be HIV positive, but test negative if recently infected.