Has your doctor told you to start taking PrEP? If not, you aren’t alone—which is strange, given that PrEP is now the No. 1 method for preventing HIV transmission, lowering the risk of contraction by a whopping 92 percent.
In a new survey, nine out of 10 gay and bisexual men said that their doctors had never mentioned PrEP. Instead, nearly everyone who responded to the survey—regardless of whether they were actually taking the preventative medication—said they had simply heard about it from friends.
It’s fitting that men’s hookup app Grindr should release the results of its latest poll just in time for World AIDS Day. After all, men who sleep with men (MSMs) are still the group most affected by HIV and AIDS, and Grindr is the leading app for the population with two million active daily users worldwide.
Having that uniquely powerful profile among gay and bisexual men gives Grindr the perfect platform for gathering information about how guys practice safe sex. The app partnered with the Centers for Disease Control’s Greater Than AIDS campaign, pharmaceutical company Gilead, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation to launch a prolific survey on the use of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) among MSMs.
PrEP is most commonly taken in the form of Truvada, the only FDA-approved version of the medication. Truvada (which is made by Gilead) is a combination of tenofovir and emtricitabine, which mix together to block the HIV virus from spreading through the body. Because the success rate is 92 percent, there’s still a slim chance of HIV transmission—which is why the CDC recommends combining daily PrEP medication with condom use.
But the results, released Monday, show that doctors are strangely silent on this enormously successful daily pill that can be taken like birth control to prevent HIV transmission. What’s even more surprising is that some respondents reported their doctors refusing to prescribe PrEP for them even when they asked for it. One out of 10 Grindr users said they had trouble getting their doctors to prescribe, and about 6 percent said their doctor refused altogether.
But gay and bisexual men, keenly aware of the risks of contracting HIV in the community, are going out of their way to find PrEP with or without the help of a silent medical establishment. Grindr found that 25 percent of users are already taking the meds, while more than half of users overall said they wanted to.
Men living in rural areas also expressed frustration with PrEP access, mostly saying that they didn’t know of local doctors and other medical services that were LGBT friendly or knowledgable. In addition, coverage was an issue: 13 percent of men who wanted to take PrEP said their insurance didn’t cover it.
The fact that doctors aren’t pushing PrEP is especially surprising in the face of the numbers: Approximately 50,000 people contract HIV every year in the U.S., and of the 1.2 million HIV-positive people in the country, about 13 percent don’t know they carry the virus.
If anyone understands the potential impact of increased PrEP use, it’s the folks at Grindr. To respond to the survey results, they’ll be blanketing users with in-app messages about PrEP in 2016, and are working on a map of LGBT-competent clinics. Because Latino men were the group least likely to already be taking PrEP, messaging in Spanish will be prioritized, according to a Monday post on the Grindr blog.
Illustration by Max Fleishman