HIV Prevention Drug Aims To Counteract AIDS Social Stigma



There’s no vaccine for HIV -- the virus that can be a precursor to full-blown AIDS  -- but for the past decade there’s been a pill people can take to prevent it. It’s called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

One of PrEP’s co-discoverers lived next door to Jason Kelley, then president/founder of San Francisco’s Ootem Advertising. Kelley later became vice president, marketing for, which owns a lab and a separate diagnostics company offering free at-home PrEP testing kits.

The kits not only test for HIV 1 and HIV 2, but also for gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis A, B and C, and chlamydia. Those who test negative for HIV are eligible to get PrEP.

Sounds like a no-brainer, but Kelley told Pharma & Health Insider that only about a third of the 1.2 million gay/bi/trans U.S. men who should be on PrEP due to their sexual behavior actually get the drug.

The reason isn’t lack of awareness, he said, but social stigma in rural and suburban areas -- largely caused by fear of employers and community members finding out that they’re on the medication., the company’s diagnostic arm, is tackling this problem by going directly to rural and suburban PrEP candidates with PrEPforBetter, a campaign using digital, out-of-home and influencer marketing to drive gay/bi/trans men to a dedicated website ( Once there, they can get a telemedicine visit to obtain a prescription for Renegade’s unbranded PrEP test that will determine if they can get PrEP itself.

Renegade’s target audience, Kelley emphasized, is not men in their “crazy ‘20s or early ‘30s with a very active sex life….Instead of being a sex-first message, we look at life-first messaging.”

In addition to geolocated online media like search, the life-first message means being “anywhere where there is a life event happening” and being part of “content they’re around.” For example, he said, “going out to the bars is a life event for a lot of folks in more rural places. We have made great relationships with [bars] about posting our material.”

Plans also call for placements in gyms -- “on displays, elliptical machines, running machines,” Kelley said. “The messaging there is going to be around being physically fit -- and being on PrEP is part of your overall health journey.”

Online, he said, Renegade wants to be in places “where people are actively thinking about their lives,” for example, “a trans man looking to buy a house.”

“We’re trying to get people to think about being on PrEP not because of being defensive against HIV, which of course it is, but being offensive about all the things you really want to do,” Kelley added, “like living your life out of confidence, knowing that you don’t have to worry about ever contracting HIV.”

By being “your partner for all parts of your life,” Kelley noted, “establishing this relationship now helps us when we start looking at other products and services down the road.”

Other marketing plans call for “an electronic direct mail piece to folks living in these [rural] areas…not regular mail because, again, safety and privacy is key.”

Renegade’s influencer marketing is highlighted by a relationship with John Joseph, a pop culture poster whose audience is “people who live in more rural America.”

“I feel empowered by using the PrEP/STI Test Collection Kit and I hope others across the U.S. can benefit from this simple and very accessible health tool," Joseph said in a press release.

Those prescribed PrEP must be tested every 90 days to maintain their prescriptions by ensuring they’re still HIV negative. Annual telemedicine visits are also required.

How does someone get HIV if they’re on PrEP?

“It is very rare,” said Kelly, but “sadly, not everybody takes the pill every day like they’re supposed to.” is a public benefit corporation, meaning that its mission – in addition making a profit -- is to actively help underserved communities.

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