Researchers from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) launched the first national open-source online directory of clinics and medical providers that prescribe Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug that prevents human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, Sept. 16. The directory, called PrEP Locator, is meant to help patients find locations in the U.S. where they can obtain a prescription for the drug.
RSPH Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology Aaron Siegler, who led the development of PrEP Locator, said that its purpose is to “consolidate many pre-existing resources that were dispersed across different states and health departments.” Siegler and his team worked on the directory in partnership with the Mac AIDS Fund (MAF).
PrEP is prescribed to HIV-negative individuals with a high risk of HIV infection in attempts to decrease their chances of contracting the virus. A 2015 study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that there are more than one million individuals who are at “substantial risk” for acquiring HIV and therefore eligible for PrEP. When taken daily, the drug decreases the chances of a high-risk individual contracting the virus by 92 percent, according to the CDC’s website.
However, those who require the drug — individuals including bisexual and homosexual men, those in an ongoing relationship with an HIV-positive individual and those who have shared needles to inject drugs — are sometimes unable to get PrEP when needed, said Shannon Weber, the founder of online directory Please PrEP Me, a database of California-based clinics and medical providers that prescribe PrEP.
“It is quite difficult without the directory [for patients] to find the provider that works for them,” Weber said. “Not enough primary care providers know enough about PrEP to offer it to folks.”
Individual organizations have developed similar local and state directories and databases in the past, such as Weber’s Please PrEP Me website, Siegler said. However, PrEP Locator is the first comprehensive national database available for use by anyone in the country, he added.
Anyone can embed the directory database onto their sites using a widget, Siegler said. Among those organizations that have already integrated the directory into their websites are PrEP Locator partners Please PrEP Me, Greater Than AIDS and AIDSVu.
As PrEP Locator is the first database of its magnitude and size, the directory remains in its developing stages, according to Siegler. The team is open to receiving feedback on the directory via email, and patients can send in information about providers and clinics to build the directory’s listings, he added.
Dan Wohlfeiler, an advisory committee member for the directory, stressed the importance of public feedback in regard to the project.
“When you are designing any public health intervention, you want to hear from as many people as possible: what they need and what their prior experience suggests will and will not work,” Wohlfeiler said. “And then you have got to go out and do it.”
Wohlfeiler said he remains optimistic that the new directory will function as the team has planned — to grant easy and complete access to a resource that locates PrEP.
“I certainly have high hopes,” Wohlfeiler said. “Ultimately, we want to make access [to PrEP] as absolutely easy as possible and to go beyond just saying, ‘Find a store near you.’ We want to be able to say, ‘Here is where that store is.’”