As the PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) family of anti-HIV drugs celebrates its 10th anniversary, its success is tempered by the reality that the drugs have only been embraced by a fraction of the people who could benefit from them. By the calculation of ViiV Healthcare, which manufactures injectable PrEP drug Apretude, a mere 20% to 25% of the drug’s potential users are currently availing themselves of it.

The lack of more widespread PrEP adoption is one of the causes behind the roughly 37,000 new cases of HIV each year in the United States, more than 40 years after the virus was identified as the cause of AIDS.  

In order to increase awareness of Apretude and PrEP broadly, ViiV has recruited Queer Eye star Karamo Brown to lead “People Talk PrEP,” a series of conversations about sex positivity and their experiences with the drug.

Marc Meachem, ViiV’s head of U.S. external affairs, sees Brown as an ideal spokesperson to connect with the campaign’s diverse target audience.

“We are trying to reach transgender women, gay men of color, gay men in general and also cisgender women,” he noted. “So there are multiple communities that could benefit from it. Karamo, who’s a known entity and a visible personality and has a history and an interest in HIV advocacy, is the perfect person for this.”

Meachem pointed to stigma and awareness as two of the major factors that have kept PrEP from being prescribed more broadly. In terms of stigma, he noted that, far too often, having a LGBTQ+ healthcare provider, or one who is a sympathetic ally, is not sufficient. Patients also need to be open about their sexual activities – and for a variety of obvious reasons there may be reluctance to be completely honest.

As for awareness, Meachem stressed that for many people the availability of PrEP is old news, but that it isn’t common knowledge in all communities.

“We take it for granted, those of us who are in the work, that people know about it,” he said.

The campaign addresses another obstacle: That remembering to take a pill every day can be challenging and that, as a result, many people who start on PrEP stop shortly thereafter. Meachem and ViiV believe that the every-other-month injectable aspect of Apretude represents an advantage.

“A long-acting injectable where you can go every other month is something that, for a lot of people, is very liberating,” he says. “That’s actually one of the phrases that they use a lot: ‘It’s liberating.’”

ViiV has other active campaigns around PrEP. “Me in You, You in Me” similarly calls attention to the diversity of communities that are impacted by HIV and the individuals who could benefit from PrEP. The campaign encourages conversations about HIV among people from different communities – including its celebrity spokespeople, Tina Knowles-Lawson and Jalen Rose.

Both Knowles-Lawson and Rose talked to a range of people over the phone, not knowing their race or other characteristics. The calls were part of an effort to end the pigeonholing of HIV as a condition that only affects gay men and intravenous drug users.

“What we’re looking for is those surprises and opportunities to engage people in the conversation,” Meachem said. ViiV hopes its campaigns will spur related community initiatives. “We’re taking that language and this program to AIDS service organizations and HIV organizations, as well as organizations that work with women’s reproductive health, to help engage, generate this dialogue and increase awareness about PrEP,” Meachem added.