Maryland Wins Youth Focused HIV Prevention Law

June 7, 2019

1199SEIU members Dr. Raymona Smith (far right) and Stacey Jackson- Roberts (center) and Maryland State Senator Dr. Clarance Lam testifying before the Maryland state legislature in support of new HIV prevention law.

After months of testimony and support from a coalition led by 1199SEIU, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill in April allowing doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe to minors, without requiring parental consent, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug that helps prevent the transmission of HIV. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan let the bill become law by not using his veto power.

Advocates say the new law will dramatically extend lifespans, particularly those of young Black men living in poverty. According to the Maryland Department of Health, about 74 percent of new HIV diagnoses are among Black youth. On average, three people are diagnosed with HIV in Maryland every day. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Maryland has the nation’s second highest lifetime risk of HIV infection. Advocates believe the legislation will be of particular benefit to young people who don’t feel comfortable discussing sexual activity with their parents or guardians.

“I treat teens who need the protection of PrEP to save their lives,” said Dr. Raymona Smith, an 1199 member at Baltimore’s Chase-Brexton Clinic. “Without this medicine, entire communities are at risk for an increased incidence of HIV disease.

As a provider, when I must inform an adolescent that he or she is HIV positive, it’s a sleepless night for me, and I can’t imagine the impact on them.”

PrEP consists of a single pill called Truvada, which is taken every day. Truvada can reduce by 90 percent the risk of becoming infected with sexually-transmitted HIV; among intravenous drug users the risk is reduced by 70 percent, according to the CDC.

“While working as a therapist at Chase-Brexton for over five years, I have witnessed the emotional impact on a young person who is newly diagnosed with HIV and the stigmas that often come with it,” said 1199 delegate Stacey Jackson-Roberts, a therapist and clinical social worker at Chase-Brexton. “I have also seen the significant difficulty that many young people face in accessing preventative care, particularly having conversations with their parents or guardians about their sexual health. It is ideal that these conversations occur before HIV prevention medication is prescribed, but either way, social workers like me would still strive to do it after the fact. Protecting patients’ lives is most urgent, followed by fostering a strong support network of family and mentors.”

It is estimated that more than 50 percent of youth living with HIV in Maryland remain undiagnosed, which dramatically increases their risk of infecting others. Maryland joins 17 other states who have passed similar legislation.

- 1199 Magazine: May / June 2019