Depending on who you ask, California-native Shannon Weber just may be the hardest working woman in PrEP.
And depending on which day of the week of it is, you would find Weber at one of her many positions which include being the director of the HIVE clinic and its website, HIVEonline.org, a coordinator of San Francisco’s Getting to Zero campaign, and working on-staff at the San Francisco Department of Public Health Capacity Building Assistance program and AIDS Education/Training Center.
But to Weber, who is also a mother of three, this “can’t stop, won’t stop” mentality is worth it because she gets to do what she loves: Link HIV-negative women and men to PrEP to safely conceive babies with their HIV-positive partners.
“Having a baby is such a nuanced decision. And I believe that having HIV, or having a partner living with HIV, shouldn’t change our opinions about who has the right to have a child. People should have their right to foster, adopt, and even have a child in the way that they want and HIV shouldn’t stand in the way of helping make those desires a reality,” says Weber.
But conception among mixed status couples can be complicated and pose many obstacles, including financial ones. Many couples cannot afford expensive procedures such as sperm-washing and in vitro fertilization. Therefore, condomless sex and PrEP (which does pose insurance coverage issues for some) may be the most plausible options. But it’s these latter options that many of Weber’s clients choose and that are often met with opposition from their healthcare providers.
“It’s a shame because PrEP reduces risk of transmission as does having a positive partner on antiretrovirals who is undetectable. And that’s what needs to be emphasized here: Women who want PrEP to conceive are not asking for zero percent risk, they just want help to reduce their risk.”
And helping to reduce risk is exactly what Weber does.
Since 2005, Weber has helped more than 250 women around the U.S. find providers in their area who support them in navigating safer conception options. In addition, she works with providers, offers preconception and prenatal counseling, gives webinars and trainings for other organizations, and has even created instructional videos for providers to educate them about PrEP.
And if that wasn’t enough, Weber is on the cusp of launching PleasePrEPMe.org, an online directory that will provide a comprehensive list of providers in California who will provide PrEP.
“This has been really exciting because with this tool we are reaching a much broader audience, and it can also help people feel less isolated when it comes to PrEP and know that they are not alone,” she says.
And if it’s not obvious, Weber’s work is also important because of recent demands that women be a part of the narrative around PrEP, which hasn’t been the case given how much media coverage and awareness has been centered on gay and bisexual men. Not to mention, because of the intersections of HIV, gender, and reproductive health, Weber’s work could help usher in women’s health organizations like Planned Parenthood to incorporate PrEP in their family planning strategies, which is a need.
“Only 12 percent of 500 women’s health providers we surveyed believe PrEP is an important part of a family planning visit. Meanwhile women think their gynecology or family planning provider would be an ideal setting to learn about PrEP. So yes, there is huge gap and hopefully in the future by working together we can fill it.”