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Oklahoma's a Hotspot for New HIV Infections. Health Officials Hope Free Prevention Drugs Can Help.

Jeffrey Beall

People without health insurance can now get free medication to prevent HIV infection.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "Ready, Set, PrEP" program is available to people with a prescription for drugs for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. The daily medication is up to 99% effective in preventing new HIV infections.

Health officials believe the program could make a big difference in Oklahoma, which has been identified as one of 57 hotspots in a Trump administration plan to end the HIV epidemic.

"Looking at Oklahoma, we had a little over 300 adults and adolescents that were diagnosed in 2016, and Oklahoma ranked about 27th among the 50 states in the number of new diagnoses. However, I want to point out that Oklahoma has a significant rural burden of HIV," said HHS Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy Director Tammy Beckham.

The "Ending the HIV Epidemic" plan set goals of reducing new infections 75% in five years and 90% in 10 years. Getting PrEP into the hands of people who can't otherwise afford it could go a long way in reaching those goals.

"What we estimate … is there’s over 1 million people who are eligible for PrEP in this country. About 200,000 of those are uninsured," Beckham said.

People with multiple sexual partners, homosexual partners or a history of intravenous drug use should consider a prescription for PrEP.

To qualify for "Ready, Set, PrEP," people must test negative for HIV, have a valid prescription for the medications and not have prescription drug coverage.

All medications are fully covered for qualifying participants. The costs of necessary clinic visits and lab tests may vary depending on income. People can find out if they qualify by visiting GetYourPrEP.com or calling toll-free 855-447-8410.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.