Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Thursday, September 13, 2018 was a historic day in Puerto Vallarta. It was on this day that the UN's PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) pilot program was officially launched in the Banderas Bay area and inaugurated at the S.E.T.A.C. LGBTQ Wellness Center in Colonia Versalles.
The day started with a press conference at City Hall, where Arie Hoekman, who represents the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Mexico, and Mexican health authorities explained the pilot program, which is targeted toward HIV-negative individuals that are part of high-risk groups.
According to Arie Hoekman, the UN agency has been allotted a grant of more than $26 million to spend on the pilot project that's slated to continue in Latin America through 2020. A total of 7,500 at-risk people in Mexico, Brazil and Peru will be enrolled in the program, which is expected to save the three countries a total of $20 million in HIV treatment costs. "Several studies have confirmed that PrEP is almost 100% successful at preventing HIV transmission," he added.
Dr Galileo Vázquez Guardarrama, the Medical Supervisor of the ImPrEP project in Mexico, said that, with three thousand free treatments to be distributed to people in four Mexican cities who are at risk of being infected with HIV, such as men that have sex with other men, transsexuals and serodiscordant couples (where one is HIV positive and the other one is not), this program could significantly help reduce new infections in Mexico.
Dr. Ariel Campos, of Jalisco's State Council for AIDS Prevention (COESIDA), said that SETAC will serve 300 people in its PrEP program in Puerto Vallarta. After initial HIV and sexually transmitted disease tests, clients will be given a one-month supply of Truvada, which requires daily dosing. After the first month, participants will be re-tested and then put on a three-month schedule and receive a three-month supply of Truvada.
According to Paco Arjona, who oversees the PrEP program in Puerto Vallarta as director of the S.E.T.A.C. LGBTQ Wellness Center, the PrEP pilot program actually began in Puerto Vallarta during the first week of July with patient intake interviews performed by Dr. Javier Mauricio Renteria Salazar, a Guadalajara University general practitioner and surgeon. Renteria is in charge of the PrEP program at the SETAC medical office where, in addition to this powerful HIV prevention tool, PrEP participants receive pre-treatment medical and STD tests, counseling, and condoms as part of the free program.
In July, 110 people had already signed up to get PrEP in Puerto Vallarta, Arjona said. He added that about 80 percent of those who signed up early for the program were Mexican, the rest were from the U.S. and Canada, as well as migrants from Venezuela and Columbia.
Presently, PrEP is an expensive treatment because the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) only allows acquiring the medication from a single pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences, which is donating the drug for the pilot program. However, the patent will expire in the near future, which will allow access to less expensive medications. PrEP aside, the most effective method for sexually active people to prevent HIV transmission is to use a condom, which are available, free of charge, at SETAC, a non-profit organization devoted to reducing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections through education, detection and prevention.
Founded in 2009 by Puerto Vallarta resident, Ed Thomas, the purpose of the SETAC Community Center, located at Aldanaca 178, 4A & 4B, in the Colonia Versalles of neighborhood of Puerto Vallarta, is to provide essential services to the community, including physical and mental health treatment, referrals, and education in an atmosphere of safety, free from discrimination. For more information, please follow SETAC on Facebook, visit the website, call (322) 224-1974 or email contacto(at)setac.com.mx.
Click HERE to learn more about the S.E.T.A.C. LGBTQ Wellness Center.