Recently, I read an article that stated only one out of 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Morehouse College, is known to provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication that helps prevent the transmission of HIV, to its students. As a Black Gay HBCU scholar, I applaud the fact that Morehouse is making advances in providing HIV prevention but I am also saddened by this fact because PrEP is one of the most important medications of our time and only 1 out of 107 HBCUs offer it.
In a country where Black Americans account for nearly half of all new HIV infections each year despite representing only 13 percent of the U.S. population with estimations that half of all Black Gay men will contract HIV in their lifetime, the need for PrEP on is at an all time high. According to the CDC, when taken daily, PrEP can reduce an individual’s risk of contracting HIV by 99%. Although the HIV prevention pill has been approved for use for nearly seven years, it’s disappointing that only Morehouse is offering PrEP to HBCU college students despite the fact that Black college students are at a greater risk of acquiring HIV.
On February 7th, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we need to remember that there are still barriers to HIV prevention, treatment, and care for Black youth on college campuses — and work to be done to break these barriers down.
Introduced in 2012, PrEP, under the brand name Truvada, has cemented itself as one of the most effective tools to combat the spread of HIV. Despite its effectiveness, PrEP is still unknown to many and consequently underprescribed to the people who need it the most. Although black men and women accounted for approximately 40% of persons with PrEP eligibility, a recent study found that nearly six times as many white men and women were prescribed PrEP as were black men and women. Furthermore, nearly 700,000 young people in the USA could benefit from PrEP. Unfortunately, there have only been 27,330 prescriptions issued to this group since 2012. This disparity should motivate us all to increase our efforts to ensure Black youth have access to PrEP.
Even when PrEP is known about and available, other factors such as cost, transportation, and the persistent stigma surrounding HIV prevent people from actually using it. In addition, young people aged 18-29 years have lower rates of health insurance than older individuals.
HBCUs can eliminate these barriers for students by providing PrEP at student health centers. By providing PrEP, HBCUs will not only empower students to take charge of their sexual health but will also show that as Black people we will not allow this epidemic to continue its reign of terror as we embark into a new year and decade. Naysayers of providing PrEP on HBCU campuses might argue that providing PrEP will create a false sense of security among students that would allow them to think that they are immune to other infections that come from sexual activities by taking PrEP. This problem will be alleviated through properly educating students about the uses of PrEP and providing other tools and resources that will help students make informed decisions about their sexual health. Another concern is that providing PrEP may encourage students to engage in more sexual activities in general. This may be hard for some people to accept but the odds of college students experimenting with their sexuality is high, regardless of whether PrEP or even condoms are easily accessible. It is the safest option to give students everything they could need to have consensual, hopefully fun, and affirming sex where vital resources like PrEP are an option.
As a Black Gay man, hearing that half of all Black Gay men may contract HIV in their lifetime is very alarming. But instead of just worrying, I am choosing to act by advocating for policies that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ health, including making PrEP available at my illustrious HBCU, Dillard University. By providing PrEP, HBCUs will not only help me but they will also help every single Black student that is at a higher risk of contracting this infection. So on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I ask you to urge HBCUs, near and far, to put the health of students first and provide PrEP on their campuses.
Jermany Gray, 20, is a YouthResource activist with Advocates for Youth, an organization that works alongside thousands of young people in the U.S. and around the globe as they fight for sexual health, rights and justice.