Sami Tuunainen works as a Sexual counselor at Hivpoint and is coordinator for the Checkpoint Express STI clinic project. Sami has been an active advocate for making PrEP accessible, available and affordable in Finland. Along with others, we have Sami to thank that we now have national guidelines for PrEP treatment in Finland. As a gay man Sami has also promoted PrEP in gay communities after working hours.
Growing up in a small town in a rural area there was no role models for a young gay man. Only context where gays were mentioned in media was AIDS – a scary disease killing young gay men around the world. When we had sexuality education at school our teacher jus said: AIDS only affects gay men so none of you needs to worry about it.
While studying, I met the right people and became a volunteer at Oulu’s Aids Council (Hivpoint’s previous name). There I got involved in HIV work. HIV work became part of my everyday life when I landed a job at Hivpoint ten years ago. Before then I worked in social work and aviation.
I actually started learning more about PrEP as late as 2014. At that point, I attended a seminar in Stockholm and my Swedish colleagues held a lecture on the topic. The response to the topic was contradictory and a bit confusing. There was a lack of trust in the effectiveness of PrEP, which was understandable considering there was no proper research available at the time. There was also a fear that sex without a condom would increase dramatically, which would lead to an STI outbreak. Me and my Finnish colleagues felt confused – we have told people for 30 years that only a condom protects you from HIV – so now what?
PrEP was forgotten for a while at Hivpoint’s work. Over the next year we got the first questions about PrEP, but along with my colleagues I felt that PrEP was not relevant at the time being. The number of questions increased and at the same time PrEP started showing up more and more in international media covering HIV issues. At that time, I got to know my now close friend who knew a lot about PrEP. He knew how one could get a hold on PrEP and use it in Finland even if it wasn’t available officially due to very high prices and a lack of proper guidelines.
After that I started digging into the subject more thoroughly and started researching how we could officially make PrEP available in Finland. It took two and a half years to finally get affordable PrEP to Finland. In the spring of 2019, The Finnish Institute for Welfare and Health published guidelines for PrEP and the generic medicines arrived at Finnish pharmacies. I was actively promoting and developing PrEP treatment practices both for use in the public health care and the private health sector. Even before official guidelines and practices were complete, I counselled people on how to order affordable PrEP form other EU countries.
Even if the availability of PrEP is relatively good at the time being, there is still a lot of work to be done so that everyone who needs PrEP would both know about it and be able to afford it. People shouldn’t have to pay for PrEP – it should be free, especially for those who can’t afford it.
My role model in the field of PrEP is without a doubt Damon L. Jacobs who is a family therapist from USA. He has played a significant role since 2012 in promoting PrEP awareness and availability. I also consider Greg Owen to be a role model for me. Owen is a British PrEP activist who has done great work advocating for PrEP in the UK and has founded the iwantprepnow.co.uk webpage. I also consider my close friend Tom as a role model for me. He has always encouraged me when I felt that things are not moving ahead at all. Tom has also given me numerous ideas how to promote PrEP through my work.
Role models are important for all of us. A role model can be anyone, a celebrity or even someone close to you. I want to thank my role models for making this word a better place. I also want to wish everybody a great Pride during these exceptional times.
Let’s take care of ourselves and each other!