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New Mecklenburg County clinic aims to make HIV prevention drug more accessible

0406 clinic ribbon cutting.jpg
Claire Donnelly
Mecklenburg County leaders cut a ribbon inside the county health department's Beatties Ford Road location to symbolize opening a new clinic focused on the HIV prevention drug, PrEP.

Mecklenburg County on Wednesday opened a clinic officials say will help more people access an important HIV prevention drug.

The clinic is located inside the county health department’s Beatties Ford Road location and aims to help people without health insurance access PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily preventative pill that greatly reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex or from sharing needles.

Some 9,300 county residents would be good candidates for the drug but only a fraction, around 1,300 people, receive it, said Matt Jenkins, senior health program manager for the county’s “End the HIV Epidemic” initiatives.

“Part of that is due to a lack of insurance — individuals that are underinsured or uninsured. And so the hope is that with the opening of this clinic it will address that particular gap,” Jenkins said.

The clinic will operate on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. by appointment only. It will help eligible people apply to receive free PrEP pills through a medication assistance program. The county health department will cover the cost of the regular blood tests required for people who take PrEP.

“We have a lot of folks who come here already for care and so we want to catch them when they’re coming in,” said Raynard Washington, Mecklenburg County’s health director.

Mecklenburg County has historically had one of the highest rates of HIV in the nation. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump announced a plan to target 48 counties in the U.S., including Mecklenburg, that the administration called HIV “hotspots,” North Carolina Health News reported.

According to the mapping tool AIDSVu, which includes data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments, 6,665 people in the county were living with HIV in 2019.

The coronavirus pandemic across the U.S. dampened many health departments’ abilities to provide sexually transmitted disease intervention services, according to a January 2021 report from the National Coalition of STD Directors. Responding to COVID-19 pulled many workers away from their STD response work, the report said, which “caused delays in providing disease intervention services, leaving some STDs completely unchecked.”

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.