For 40 years, HIV has disproportionately devastated marginalized communities across the United States, with Black Americans representing 43 percent of new cases in 2017. In 2012, pre-exposure prophylaxis medication (PrEP) was FDA approved, intended to prevent HIV from spreading in the body. Yet many people of color, cisgender women and transgender men were unable to use the drug due to cost, a lack of diversity in test trials and inaccessibility

Now, with approximately 1.1 million Americans living with the disease and 1 in 7 unaware of their status, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the government announced a new program, Ready, Set, PrEP yesterday (December 3). It will provide donated drugs through major drugstore chains so that 200,000 uninsured Americans can get free HIV-prevention drugs, The New York Times reported yesterday.

“Although more than one million people at risk for HIV in the United States could benefit from PrEP, only a small fraction of them receive the medications,” notes the statement. “Many people do not know about PrEP medications or how PrEP can help them, and many cannot afford to pay for the medicine.” On average, PrEP, which is sold under the names Truvada or Descovy (both of which are manufactured by Gilead Sciences), costs about $2,000 a month. Yet even at that high price tag, the daily pill is said to be 99 percent effective at preventing infection.

To rectify the price gap and expand access, beginning March 30, 2020, qualified patients will be able to get free PrEP medications at more than 21,000 CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid pharmacies across the country, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or through mail order. Recipients of the drugs must test negative for HIV, receive a valid prescription from a healthcare provider and be uninsured for prescription drugs. 

Until March 30, health and human services secretary Alex M. Azar II told The Times the government will pay Gilead $200 per bottle to move the donated drugs from factories to patients.

To learn more about Ready, Set, PrEP, people can call 855-447-8410 or visit the website getyourprep.com.