On PrEP

For much of this year I’d been seeing posters in the subway platforms and cars depicting a healthy-looking, hot guy (or guys) staring dreamily into the camera with captions reading I’m on PrEP, or Ask your doctor about PrEP or some such verbiage involving something called “PrEP”.

I had no idea exactly what PrEP is, other than it obviously being a product strategically aimed at a gay male audience, so a little Googling was in order.

I found out that PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Using the brand name Truvada, it is a drug to prevent the contraction of HIV in people who have not yet been exposed to the virus. Taken daily, it is a medication which reportedly reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 92% (ideally, for total prevention against HIV transmission, PrEP should be accompanied with the use of condoms). So, basically, the miracle of modern medicine has given us protection from something as horrific as HIV/AIDS in pill form – at last.

Please don’t misunderstand the intentions of this post – I am neither for or against PrEP; to be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. On the one hand, I marvel how the advances of modern science can at last give us protection against the dreaded disease that has wreaked such devastation on the world. On the other hand, I’m a little shocked at how the advertising/media world imply that if we take PrEP we should throw all caution to the wind and go at it like mad bunnies.

I confess the whole thing makes me slightly uneasy because I remember the past very well. I can’t help thinking of those early, awful, fearful, devastating years of AIDS my generation witnessed and lived through. We were the next generation of potential AIDS patients after the initial onslaught claimed men from the fallout of late 70s and early 80s sexual hedonism. My age group became very used to seeing the miles of obituaries – in our bi-weekly Toronto gay rag, Xtra! – of the beautiful, young men we’d see in the Village, taken from us far too early in life. We’d wonder who’s next? as we checked ourselves, yet again, for swollen lymph nodes, weight loss or any fresh and mysterious spots on our skin. I remember very well the Act Up! demonstrations and “die-ins” during the Toronto Pride Parades of the 80s and early 90s, the AIDS candlelight vigils and memorials in Cawthra Park (now Barbara Hall Park) just off Church Street, the protest marches and gatherings at Queen’s Park where everyone shouted for more AIDS research funding. Over the years I’ve seen acquaintances and work colleagues succumb to this horrible disease and have felt the fear and loss.

I guess I’m simply old school and still have contagion issues and fears, remembering how history unfolded over the past 30 or so years. I don’t know – I guess time will tell how effective these new meds are. If proven effective over the long term, they truly are a marvel of modern science and will change our lives.