It was a thrill to be able to attend the International Conference on AIDS in Durban, South Africa last month. The convening is the largest conference on any global health or development issue and occurs every other year. Attending provided me the opportunity to connect with global leaders working on the front line of HIV treatment and prevention policy, and I hope to bring many of the lessons I learned back to our movement in North Carolina.

There were a number of North Carolina researchers and academics who presented at the conference, and I was excited to see several present some of the most cutting-edge research on PrEP and Truvada. PrEP stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis” and is a medication that HIV-negative individuals can take that will prevent them from becoming HIV+. PrEP works, and it’s time to move beyond effectiveness and start dedicating resources to get it in the hands of those most at risk of acquiring HIV.

On July 20, I spoke with Dr. Mehri McKellar and Dr. Jessica Seidelman with Duke University School of Medicine about their research on the willingness of primary care providers within the Duke Healthcare system in Durham to prescribe PrEP. No surprise, their survey found far too few providers are prescribing PrEP. Seventy eight percent of those surveyed reported serving men who have sex with men, yet only 17 percent surveyed had prescribed PrEP!

Providers described the traditional barriers, mainly a lack of knowledge and lack of comfort with PrEP. Luckily, these providers have the Duke PrEP Clinic for HIV Prevention in their backyard. In addition to serving patients, the clinic provides education and support for Duke primary care and community providers who need more information about PrEP. According to Dr. McKellar, “Our team has visited approximately 12 primary care clinics to date to provide information and answer questions. We are also working closely with our community partners on outreach efforts to access persons who are at high risk for HIV and are not tapped into the healthcare system.”

As we ramp up HIV prevention efforts in North Carolina, PrEP is going to play a critical role. North Carolina research and best practices are being showcased on the world stage, and we must work aggressively to keep making progress here at home.

Lee Storrow

Lee Storrow is executive director for North Carolina AIDS Action Network.