Talking HIV prevention with Nurx app’s founder, Hans Gangeskar
As a queer millennial, I haven’t given much thought to the possibility of contracting HIV.
Like many of my misinformed LGBTQ+ counterparts, I saw the disease as a thing of the past, only brought back to life whenever I’d rewatch the film adaptation of Rent.
But while the number of cases per year has definitely decreased since the '80s, after effective treatments eventually beat the stigma, HIV is absolutely still a threat. And the fact that my favorite app, Nurx (which is basically the Seamless for birth control) carries PrEP only further solidifies my education about HIV-preventative measures still being needed to this day.
Additionally, my good pal and fellow queer journalist Kenny has been teaching me a lot about HIV and fourth-wave activism to bring greater awareness to a young community that often feels somewhat distanced from the perils and risk of the disease.
Feeling proud of Nurx for carrying Truvada (a form of PrEP), I decided to chat with one of the app’s founders, Hans Gangeskar, in the hopes of learning more about the drug as well as the importance of HIV awareness. We talked about the importance of preventive medicine, accessibility and the future of HIV/AIDS awareness. And I learned yet another reason to love the lifesaving and ever-inclusive Nurx app.
HelloFlo: When did Nurx start offering PrEP?
Hans Gangeskar: We currently have two services we provide through our app. The first is our birth control delivery service, which we launched in December of 2015. With our birth control delivery service, users receive a three-month supply delivered right to their door and it is often free with insurance.
This past March, we began offering Truvada for PrEP through our app as well (at Nurx.com/prep). PrEP (short for pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a relatively new HIV-prevention method in which people who do not have HIV take a daily pill (Truvada) to reduce their chances of infection. Studies have shown Truvada for PrEP to be up to 99 percent effective in preventing transmission of the virus.
HF: Why is it important that Nurx carries (and advertises that they carry) PrEP?
HG: We are focusing on making preventative medicine more accessible to everyone. And with PrEP, there is a huge access problem. According to the CDC, 1.2 million people should be on Truvada, yet as of 2015, only 21,000 were actually on the drug. One reason for this is the lack of awareness about the drug in the medical community. Federal health officials estimate that about one-third of primary care doctors and nurses are actually unaware of Truvada. In addition to the stigma and lack of information about PrEP, there is also a shortage of doctors who will prescribe it. We are making Truvada for PrEP more accessible to those that need and want it.
HF: Do you think Nurx is helping to bring greater visibility to an issue that has been largely ignored by younger generations? Why is this important to you?
HG: We already have raised visibility to this issue. We’re inundated with emails from people who say they saw an article about us and didn’t know that an HIV-preventive medication such as Truvada even existed. This is important to us because we want to give people more control over their health care. We want people to know that preventative action is key and that it doesn’t have to take weeks to access, nor do you have to jump through a bunch of hoops just to get the care someone wants, needs and deserves.
HF: Do you think by providers like Nurx offering PrEP, HIV-preventative measures are being (or will be in the future) more widely used by younger people?
HG: Absolutely, and we’re already seeing this with younger people. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the inquiries and requests for PrEP we receive are from millennials. We expect this to continue to increase as well. For millennials, technology is a way of life, and this generation is embracing health technology faster than any other generation.
HF: Why might it be difficult or stressful for a patient to procure PrEP through other means (like face-to-face/doctor visits, etc.)? Have you perceived there to be any level of scrutiny existing around the use of the drug?
HG: With our app, someone can get on PrEP within a couple days, but this is very often not the case when someone visits their doctor in person. As previously mentioned, lack of awareness about the treatment, so less providers are willing to prescribe it. The wait time for people trying to get on PrEP can take weeks, as Micah Enloe recently explained in an article discussing his experience before he found Nurx.
The only real scrutiny we have noticed has come from Michael Weinstein, head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who condemned Nurx for making PrEP more accessible because people might use it in conjunction with hookup apps like Grindr and Tinder. It’s frightening that the head of the largest AIDS service organization in the world would speak out against expanding access to a drug which reduces the risk of spreading HIV. Personal opinions about the morality of taking PrEP have no place in the discussion of safety and medical appropriateness of Truvada for PrEP.
HF: What would you tell a millennial who doesn’t think PrEP is important to apply to their sex life or that HIV is a threat to them?
HG: I would say, it’s a personal choice, but if someone is having unprotected sex with multiple partners, it might be worth looking into. By taking Truvada for PrEP daily, it has been shown to be 99 percent effective at preventing HIV. Last September, after the culmination of two-and-a-half-year study involving 657 “at-risk” patients who took Truvada for PrEP, researchers announced that there were no new HIV infections.
If someone decides that this is right for them, we can help them get their lab work done, and then if they are a good candidate, we can get them on PrEP very quickly. And if cost is an issue, we can help connect them with programs to pay for their medicine.
HF: What progress do you hope to see in the coming years (whether it be through the medical community, the media, etc.) with regard to progress in further creating awareness about HIV/AIDS?
HG: We hope to see more medical providers aware of and willing to prescribe PrEP to their patients. Additionally, we hope to see people like Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation take a more solutions-based approach to HIV prevention and PrEP. If this happens, this will help reduce the stigma surrounding the topic.
By Meg Zulch
Originally published on HelloFlo.