The Student Health Care Center has a pill that effectively prevents getting HIV, but students at UF haven’t taken advantage of it in at least three years.
Known as PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, the pill can cut the risk of getting HIV by about 92 percent when taken daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s been available at the SHCC since 2011, said Laura Tipton, a UF pharmacy employee.
It can cost an uninsured person about $1,600 a month, but most insurance companies cover about 75 percent of the costs, said Stacey Hall, a UF health care provider.
In Hall’s three years of working for the UF Health Care Center, she has yet to prescribe the PrEP pill to anyone.
PrEP is only offered in the brand name Truvada, which is made by the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences.
Sandy Saunders, a UF pharmacology doctoral student, said she’d rather stay abstinent than pay for a pill that costs three times her rent.
“American pharmaceutical companies have the power to drop the price of medications, but they choose not to,” she said. “If a generic brand of the drug was made available, it would probably be used more.”
Before taking the pill, students must be diagnosed as HIV-negative and attend a series of follow-up appointments, which Hall said is usually a deterrent. Students often lose interest when they discover they’ll have to change their daily routine to take it.
Ideally, the pill must be taken at the same time every day, Tipton said .
“People forget to do a lot of things throughout their day, so a lot of people might forget to take the pill daily,” Hall said. “If you miss a day, then it’s pretty much rendered useless.”
HIV has a three-month incubation period, called the “window period,” Hall said. This means a four-month process before the patient can actually take the pill.
While some health care providers are aware the pill may come with the social side effect of increasing risky behavior, others believe it is a big step toward controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS, Hall said.