A major impediment to the scale-up of Truvada (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate/emtricitabine) as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among at-risk women is their fear of stigma related to taking the daily HIV prevention pill, Reuters Health reports.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that perhaps 200,000 women in the United States are good candidates for PrEP at any given time, only an estimated 50,000 have ever tried Truvada as prevention, and a mere 3,000 are currently using it.

Publishing their findings in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, researchers conducted an online survey in 2017 of 597 HIV-negative sexually active heterosexual women living in the three cities in Connecticut with the highest rate of new HIV infections.

Twenty-three percent of the respondents were aware of PrEP prior to engaging in the survey.

The women said that if they took PrEP and others knew this, they would be perceived as promiscuous (37 percent reported this), HIV positive (32 percent), bad (14 percent) or gay (11 percent). Thirty percent reported that they would feel ashamed to tell others they were on PrEP. A respective 36 percent, 34 percent and 25 percent expected their family, sex partners and friends to disapprove of their use of PrEP.

After adjusting the data to account for various factors that may have swayed the results, the researchers found that women’s expectation that others would subject them to PrEP-user stereotypes if they used Truvada was associated with a lower level of comfort in discussing PrEP with a medical provider. Those who expected others to disapprove of their PrEP use were less likely to be interested in using it, have less intention to use it and were less comfortable with talking to a clinician about it.

The researchers speculated that women had the greatest intention to use PrEP when they anticipated low levels of PrEP-user-related stereotypes and less disapproval from others for using Truvada for prevention.

The study authors concluded that their findings “highlight the need for positive messaging targeting potential PrEP users and their social networks to increase PrEP acceptance and uptake” among at-risk women.

To read the Reuters Health article, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.