Andrew Ruys de Perez

On a rainy Thursday afternoon, a group of 40 gathered at the Criterion Cinemas to learn more about pre-exposure prophylaxis — the new HIV-prevention medication physicians and public-health workers are promoting in Connecticut.

At the event, which was hosted by the AIDS Project New Haven, guests chatted with medical experts and public-health providers in the theater’s lobby while enjoying a buffet. A similarly well-stocked table offered pamphlets, condoms and informational packets on safe-sex and STI prevention. At a formal presentation an hour into the event, a panel of speakers explained the process of obtaining PrEP.

“PrEP is a relatively new tool for HIV prevention,” Fair Haven Community Health Center HIV physician Krystn Wagner said. “More specifically, it’s a medication called Truvada that when taking once a day is highly effective in preventing HIV infection.”

Panelists included Wagner, other doctors and medical specialists from the area, as well as several individuals currently using PrEP.

“There are so many folks who still don’t known what PrEP is,” New Haven’s Director of Health Services Byron Kennedy SPH ’01 MED ’04 GRD ’04 said.

He emphasized that HIV/AIDS continues to be a public-health problem both worldwide and locally –– an estimated 1,500 people in New Haven have HIV.

Speakers emphasized their personal stories and advocated for those present to not only learn more about the drug, but also to share the information they had learned with family and friends.

“I think that there has been an increase in awareness over the last several months, but there are still many people who are not aware that they have this option,” Wagner said.

AIDS Project New Haven’s PrEP Services Coordinator, Bradford Briggs, said he felt the public-health campaign was a success. He specifically highlighted the growth of one of New Haven’s clinics, where the number of patients taking PrEP has increased threefold since October. Currently, 90 clinic patients take the medication.

The event also included a film explaining the mechanisms behind PrEP. The medicine creates a protective barrier around T-cells, a type of white blood cell. Taking PrEP daily reduces a patient’s risk of an HIV infection by up to 99 percent.