Health officials in Florida are taking a big step forward in tackling the state’s HIV crisis: They offering PrEP for free.
A pilot program launched in 16 counties last year will be extended statewide by the end of 2018. Those seeking treatment will be evaluated by the Florida Department of Health for eligibility, which includes financial status.
“Ensuring PrEP to those at highest risk for HIV infection, regardless of their ability to pay, is one of the four key components of the agency’s plan to eliminate HIV transmission and reduce HIV-related deaths,” said Florida Department of Health spokesperson Mara Gambineri. Other strategies include increased testing for high-risk populations, access to treatment for HIV-positive people, and increased community awareness about HIV/AIDS.
The rate of new infections in Florida is nearly twice the national average—Miami has the highest rate of new diagnoses in the entire country, with more than 4,800 in 2015 alone.
But activists complain little has been done to address the epidemic, which is hitting black and Latino men the hardest. Big cuts to the health department haven’t helped, either: According to the CDC, if current rates continue, 1 in 54 Floridians will become HIV-positive in their lifetime.
The new initiative mirrors effective programs across the U.S. and in Norway. But for it to really work, officials will have to reach those who need it most: In 2016, the majority of the 4,972 new infections were men who had sex with other men.
They’ll also have to get the word out: Used correctly, PrEP provides a more than 90% reduction in HIV risk. But despite the CDC recommending it as appropriate for 1.2 million Americans, there are only about 145,000 active prescriptions in the U.S..