Bhalla, DeFusco announce expanded access to HIV prevention drug for Hoboken city workers

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Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeFusco have announced that municipal employees will have expanded access to an HIV prevention drug as of January 1st.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication prescribed to HIV-negative individuals to help reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV should they come in contact with the virus. The medication works to prevent HIV from establishing infection inside the body.

“For too many members of the LGBTQ+ community, the HIV epidemic has had an outsized impact on their health and safety,” Bhalla said in a statement.

“The modifications we are making will ensure our health benefits are inclusive and provide critical coverage for persons of all gender identities and sexual orientations. I thank Councilman DeFusco for partnering with my administration to implement this important update for our employees.”

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, PrEP is 99 percent effective in preventing the spread of HIV when taken as prescribed and reaches maximum protection in as little as seven days.

“One of the most important lessons we have learned in 2020 is that no person should be without the healthcare coverage and medication they need to survive or simply stay healthy,” DeFusco added.

“Expanding the access of PrEP not only prevents a potential lapse in coverage, it also helps reduce the stigma and prejudices far too many LGBTQ+ individuals feel during monthly doctor’s appointments. As Hoboken’s only openly gay Councilperson, I appreciate Mayor Bhalla and Director Freeman for taking swift action to ensure this essential medication is more easily accessible to all city employees beginning in the new year.”

For the third year in a row, the City of Hoboken received a perfect 100 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Municipal Equality Index (MEI), an annual examination of policies relating to LGBTQ+ laws in over 500 municipalities across the United States.

Hoboken is one of three municipalities in New Jersey, and one of 94 cities across the country, to earn a perfect score.

Local LGBTQ+ advocacy group Hudson Pride applauded the latest Hoboken policy initiative.

“Preventing HIV through PrEP medication is an instrumental part of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country,” noted Hudson Pride Executive Director Elizabeth Schedl.

“Hudson Pride Center has 3 PrEP Counselors on staff who assess eligibility for interested clients, link them to HIV testing, and provide assistance with medication and care provider access, as well as on-going adherence counseling and prevention education. Having one of the major cities in Hudson County understand the importance of PrEP medication and access to care is a significant step in the right direction. Thank you Mayor Balla and Councilman DeFusco.”

Hoboken also earned top HRC scores for the city’s law enforcement policies, which include reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI, the administration’s leadership on LGBTQ+ equality, non-discrimination protections covering employment, fair treatment of LGBTQ+ employees, and city healthcare benefits that are transgender-inclusive.