March 08, 2019

Watson Coleman Introduces New HIV Prevention Legislation Increasing Access to PrEP

Ahead of National Women and Girls HIV and AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) on Sunday, March 10, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) announced the introduction of new legislation aimed at preventing HIV and AIDS by increasing access to pre-exposure prophylaxis medication for individuals at risk of contracting HIV. The PrEP Assistance Program Act creates a grant program through the federal Department of Health and Human Services to help cover the costs of PrEP medication, laboratory fees, outreach to inform the public about PrEP, and more.

“PrEP is the closest thing we have right now to a vaccine for HIV and yet it’s underutilized, particularly by those with the highest risk for developing HIV. We have a tool to prevent transmission and any further spread of HIV and AIDS, but its not reaching those who need it most. We have to change that.”

PrEP, which refers to any drug that reduces the risk of contracting HIV, is currently prescribed as a daily, oral pill to individuals who do not have HIV and are at substantial risk of contracting the virus. It has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by up to 99 percent. Focused efforts to increase awareness of PrEP in these communities could help reduce new HIV diagnoses. The PrEP Assistance Program Act would award grants to existing PrEP Assistance Programs and create new state, territory and tribal programs nationwide. Grants would support medication costs, laboratory fees, sexually transmitted disease testing, treatment adherence counseling, and outreach to high-risk populations to improve awareness for prevention mechanisms like PrEP.  The legislation also directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to report to Congress and make available to the public the impact of the grant program, providing valuable feedback on its progress.

Among the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV there are vast disparities in the communities most affected. African Americans represent 14% of the US population but account for 44% of HIV diagnoses, while Latinos represent 18% of the US population and 25% of HIV diagnoses. In 2018, Watson Coleman introduced a resolution supporting additional research and public education efforts on the usage of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for individuals at risk of contracting HIV.

Original co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), David Scott (D-GA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Anthony Brown (D-MD), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), José Serrano (D-NY), Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Steve Cohen (D-TN).

To view the text of the PrEP Assistance Program Act, click here.