Accessing PrEP (‘Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis’, a daily oral medication that prevents HIV) can be a challenge to navigate for folks who are at higher risk of contracting HIV, such as gay, bisexual and queer men. In Hamilton, Doctor Kevin Woodward wants to change that.
Dr. Woodward, a Hamilton native who has spent most of his life here, is an infectious diseases physician at St Joseph’s Healthcare and an Associate Professor at McMaster University. This year, he has launched the Hamilton PrEP Clinic in the hopes of bringing easier access to this game-changing prevention option to guys in Hamilton.
Woodward felt that a PrEP clinic was needed in Hamilton, and as an infectious diseases specialist it was a natural fit for him. “Having treated HIV and been working in sexual health for years” he says, “I’m comfortable with both the medications and screening as well as dealing with any STI’s. So starting a PrEP clinic was a natural fit”.
Doctor Woodward believes that although most guys have heard of PrEP, knowing how to get it, where to go and who to talk to is a challenge. “One of the biggest barriers for people to access PrEP is actually knowing who to talk to about it. Family doctors might not know about it, especially in a smaller urban centre like Hamilton” he says.
The Hamilton PrEP Clinic could change that. One of the first clinics of its kind outside the large urban centres like Toronto and Montreal, Dr Woodward’s clinic is one-stop for PrEP information, prescriptions and follow-up testing and care. As a part of PrEP care, patients need to be tested for any possible (rare and generally mild) side-effects as well as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections every three months, all of which is available onsite at Dr Woodward’s clinic.
Guys can refer themselves to the clinic and even set up their own appointments through the clinics inviting, informative and extremely user-friendly website, which is one piece of an online campaign utilizing social media and ads through hookup apps to get the word out to guys about the clinic.
But getting the word out about The Hamilton PrEP Clinic is only half the battle. Misinformation about the medications effectiveness continues to be prevalent in our community, even with overwhelming scientific evidence of the treatment’s effectiveness. When asked for one thing he believes gay men need to know about PrEP, Dr Woodward says “That it works! I think most people know a bit about PrEP but there’s always more to know. If the medication is taken every day it’s just as effective as condoms in preventing HIV infection. And while PrEP doesn’t prevent other STI’s, when you’re on PrEP you will be screened for STI’s every three months, and treated if needed. The side effects of PrEP are minimal and easily monitored with your regular visits. The most important thing to know is it works if you take it”.
Another barrier is gay men’s perception of their own HIV risk. Says Woodward “One of the common things I hear from guys about PrEP is that often they think they’re not at risk. If you’ve ever been diagnosed with an STI, you’re at risk of HIV infection. If you have sex without condoms, you’re at risk of HIV infection. And now we have effective medication to prevent it from happening”. He continues “Too often in medicine we are treating medical conditions but not able to prevent them. PrEP provides the ability to prevent new HIV infections, as well as comprehensive sexual health screening and STI treatment”. The Hamilton PrEP Clinic website has a helpful checklist to score your HIV risk as a way of seeing if PrEP is right for you.
Most of all, Dr Woodward want’s guys who are thinking about PrEP to know how to find him. “Probably the most important thing to know is how to access the clinic” he says, “Guys can call or visit our website to set up an appointment. Whether you just want to know more about PrEP or want to start it as soon as possible, we can help”.
For more information visit hamiltonprepclinic.ca