A new ad campaign promoting a once-a-day HIV prevention pill is revolutionizing how safe sex advertisements are presented.
“We wanted to underscore the importance of pleasure, intimacy, love, and lust when we talk sex,” said Jim Pickett, Director of Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men's Health at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “These are important and valid reasons why we have sex and too often HIV prevention messages neglect these things and focus on negative risks and disease,” Pickett added.
The new campain, called PrEP4Love, is being seen on the sides of buses and in train stations in Chicago. It seeks to raise awareness of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily HIV prevention pill that can reduce the risk of HIV infections by up to 92%.
The PrEP4Love campaign features real members of Chicago communities disproportionately impacted by HIV, including young gay and bisexual black men, transgender women of color, and black heterosexual women. The models were found through casting calls shared on social media and through a network of HIV service organizations.
“When people see the campaign, they are going to see real people who are relatable, people they may know personally,” Beverly Ross, a Chicago-based transgender advocate who is featured in the campaign, said in a statement.
The campaign comes almost four years after the Food and Drug Administration approved PrEP for HIV-prevention. Later the Centers for Disease Control also recommended the drug, but with little fanfare. There was no press conference or ad campaign soon after. The result, experts say, is that the drug has been adopted mostly by middle-aged white men.
On a national level, black men who have sex with men are overrepresented in new HIV diagnoses. In 2014, 44% (19,540) of estimated new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. were among African Americans, who comprise 12% of the US population, according to the CDC. Among all African Americans diagnosed with HIV that year, an estimated 57% (11,201) were gay or bisexual men. Of those gay and bisexual men, 39% (4,321) were young men aged 13 to 24.
About 1,000 people are diagnosed with HIV every year in Chicago, according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, which along with the Chicago Department of Public Health co-convened the Chicago PrEP Working Group that developed the campaign.
“We need to be talking more to communities that can benefit [from PrEP],” said Jim Pickett, Director of Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men's Health at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
“We want people to know about it, be informed about it, so they can make decisions,” said Pickett. “We’re promoting everyone knowing about PrEP so that they can make an informed decision to whether they are interested in looking at PrEP or not.”
The ads also feature a website and a phone number that connects callers to resources that can help them access PrEP. The phone number listed on the ads directs callers to the University of Chicago’s PrEP line, a phone service with resources to health care providers across the city, health insurance and low-cost or free medication.
The City of New York in December also launched a sex-positive public education campaign that informs New Yorkers that PrEP and condom use can prevent all sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The campaign encouraged New Yorkers to "play sure."
The average wholesale price of Truvada, the leading PrEP drug, is $1,539.90 per month, according to a guide published by the Test Positive Aware Network, a group made up of AIDS service organizations in Chicago. But Gilead, the manufacturer of Truvada, offers assistance programs for individuals with incomes below 500% of the federal poverty line (approximately $58,000 per year for singles) and who have no other sources of health insurance or prescription coverage, according to the Fair Pricing Coalition, a group that advocates for lower HIV and hepatitis drug prices. (Gilead did not respond to a request to confirm the group’s estimates.)
Currently only the state of Washington offers a drug assistance program to help pay for PrEP.