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LGBTQ+ Health: New Year, New You

The New Year often comes paired with myriad resolutions to improve ourselves: quitting smoking, losing a few pounds, learning a language, etc. Whether one believes in resolutions or not, a new year typically brings with it feelings of a fresh start, and is often a time of self-reflection and self-improvement.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, PrEP, a once-daily pill, is up to 99 percent effective in protecting individuals from contracting HIV.

For LGBTQ+ individuals, navigating the health care system in search of competent care can be daunting. “We want to see everyone in our community taking care of their physical and mental health.” says Dr. Jorge Ramallo, lead physician at the Inova Pride Clinic, “That means seeing providers you trust, taking advantage of prevention resources like PrEP to prevent illness, and getting tested for HIV, STDs, and other health conditions.” The Inova Pride Clinic opened in June 2022 on N. Washington St. in Falls Church and serves patients age 12 and over.

NovaSalud (2946 Sleepy Hollow Rd., Falls Church) is an organization that provides free, confidential, and rapid HIV testing, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, prevention and education services, and free condoms, with a particular focus on Latinx men and trans women. Ignacio Aguirre, Senior Manager of Prevention Programs at NovaSalud, says the most important thing LGBTQ+ folks can do to be healthy in 2023 is to “have safe sex — including taking PrEP.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a once-daily pill that prevents HIV transmission by up to 99 percent when taken regularly. There are two primary versions of PrEP; Truvada and Descovy, both of which are manufactured by Gilead. Though not typically covered by insurance and extremely expensive (a one-month supply can cost over $1,000, even with health insurance), a co-pay card making either medication entirely free is offered by Gilead online at gileadadvancingaccess.com.

While sexual health is often the primary focus when discussing LGBTQ+ health, Aguirre stressed the need to be proactive about one’s overall health, get insurance, find a primary care doctor, and ask questions. “Ask about your overall health” Aguirre said, “from digestive system to heart and lung function to testing for chronic disease,”

When it comes to requesting STI testing, it is important that patients be assertive, and request the tests they need. “Some STIs present no symptoms, but can be affecting our system without [us] even knowing it.” mentioned Aguirre. When it comes to getting tested, “swab what you use,” because a blood test won’t provide comprehensive screening for many STIs, so be persistent, specific, and detailed. When discussing one’s health with a provider, modesty can be dangerous.

Asked about the monkeypox (MPX) vaccine, Aguirre advised people to take advantage even with the urgency having subsided. “We should sheild our immune system against anything that might cause deterioration of our health.” NovaSalud provides MPX vaccine clinics the second Thursday of every month.

For trans individuals, both Inova Pride Clinic and NovaSalud offer a variety of care. “Gender-affirming care is also a key part of LGBTQ+ health care for gender-diverse patients.” said Ramallo, “The Pride Clinic is able to provide comprehensive gender evaluations and treatment tailored to each patient’s needs.”

NovaSalud also provides a number of mental health support services to Northern Virginia’s LGBTQ+ community. The organization’s RISE retreat helps queer men of color explore their experiences of homophobia, discrimination, and overcome the impact those experiences can have on their utilization of health care resources. TSISTA is their life skills group for Latinx transgender women based on gender- and culturally-relevant discussions aimed at reducing risky sexual behavior, increasing condom use, and other training. CLEAR is their program offering one-on-one, evidence-based counseling for adults living with HIV/AIDS.

Readers are encouraged to visit NovaSaludInc.org, Inova.org/PrideClinic, or schedule an appointment with their primary care provider to discuss their 2023 wellness goals.