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The Role of College Campuses in PrEP Uptake

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Kenric Ware, PharmD, AAHIVP

Associate Professor
Department of Pharmacy Practice
South University
Savannah, Georgia
Chairperson, Pharmacist
Board of Directors
Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative
Columbia, South Carolina

Kenric B. Ware, PharmD, AAHIVP, has no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

View ClinicalThoughts from this Author

Released: January 19, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • College students are a key target population for increasing HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) awareness and access.
  • Many existing venues, communities, and networks on college campuses provide potential opportunities to integrate PrEP messaging.

Unfamiliarity with HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) within populations that can benefit from it remains a barrier to PrEP introduction and uptake. Many college students report having sex but, when queried, are commonly unaware of PrEP. Therefore, college campuses are a useful venue for promotional activities to increase awareness of PrEP and position it as a popular and powerful strategy for students to manage their health.

Ongoing Conversations
College campuses have the versatility to serve as highly interactive venues to increase PrEP awareness among a key target population. PrEP informational sessions on campuses can complement ongoing conversations within the student body. Students regularly participate in awareness events and other structured discourses whose formats are typically flexible enough that they could accommodate the inclusion of PrEP education or messaging. As an example, PrEP talks may fit into dormitory hall discussions that are typically spearheaded by residency supervisors and required for residents to attend.

Conversations about PrEP can also extend beyond in-person chats to encompass virtual audiences as well. In this respect, it is worthwhile to devise social media campaigns that entertain and inform college students about PrEP through frequently visited platforms.

Campus Health Clinics
University health clinics may also be valuable spaces to invite student discourse about PrEP. Unfortunately, some students may cite privacy concerns about confiding in campus-based healthcare professionals to gauge their PrEP suitability. These employees interact with many clients, and students may be skeptical that all disclosures will remain confidential.

Additional barriers to effective communication may include a lack of rapport with campus healthcare professionals or feeling stigmatized when entering student health clinics. To address these challeges, it must be a priority to create on-campus spaces for students that they trust and where they can learn about and assess PrEP’s utility.

Individualized Approaches
College-based interventions can be useful for targeting specific populations or regions. Since the HIV burden in the United States uncomfortably rests in the South, for example, intentional collaborations with representative colleges can help to curb disproportionate rates of new HIV infections occurring in this locale. Individual campus cultures can vary, making it essential to consult with groups of local students to gain their perspectives about contextual nuances that may stimulate or stifle PrEP uptake on their campus.

Engaging targeted groups is a course of action that can also help leverage the social capital possessed by certain students to optimize visibility of PrEP-centered communications. Individual students may emerge as PrEP ambassadors to their peer circles, who can facilitate normalizing conversations about safer sex strategies. College students often point to prominent peers, such as student athletes and members of organizations like fraternities and sororities, as ideal leaders when it comes to PrEP messaging.

Faculty and administrative support must also be in place to bolster and amplify PrEP messaging from students. As a result, developing processes for identifying faculty and administrative PrEP champions is a strategic approach to establish the longevity of PrEP communications on college campuses.

The methods that college-aged students use to communicate are steadily evolving, providing adaptable opportunities to showcase PrEP through creative and contemporary lenses. The language put forth to describe PrEP to college students is important, as are the locations on campuses where PrEP discussions take place and with whom. Campus personnel touted as being student advocates due to their accessibility have an opportunity to guide students as they cultivate environments that work best for them to explore everything that PrEP has to offer.

Your Thoughts?
Are you aware of strategies that have been particularly effective at increasing PrEP uptake on college campuses? Join the discussion by posting a comment.

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