The battle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic is now being fought with a new weapon in Truvada. The Food and Drug Administration, (FDA) for the first time, has approved a drug treatment that will prevent infection in healthy people. This is a drug which works by lowering the amount of virus in the blood of HIV infected patients. If taken by uninfected individuals, it prevents the virus from entering uninfected cells.
Truvada, made by Gilead Sciences Inc., is approved for use on healthy people who are at high risk of contracting HIV. These include individuals who have multiple sex partners, engage in unprotected intercourse, or engage in high risk behaviors such as IV drug use. It is also approved for HIV patients. Along with other medication it inhibits the entry of the virus into new cells.
Though this drug is not a cure for HIV, but it is a significant new weapon in the battle against it. It does lower the risk of becoming infected in most users by 75 percent. Some experts believe that if Truvada is not taken correctly on a daily basis, the HIV virus may become resistant to the medication. Sticking to the proscribed regimen is key to the effectiveness of the drug. Public officials also note that this drug leads people to engage in more risky behaviors, believing that they are completely resistant to HIV, which they are not. This drug reduces the risk of becoming HIV-infected. Safe sex plus Truvada is still the recommended best way to prevent becoming infected.
Since its FDA approval, Truvada has become a hugely effective method of controlling the spread of HIV and AIDS worldwide. As with any new drug, Truvada does not come cheap. Costing an individual $8,000 to $14,000 a year, it is out of most people’s price range. This is something that people infected with HIV have faced since the first treatments came out decades ago. The possibility that a person with the disease could have a treatment available which could help extend their life, but have it remain out of reach out of cost considerations has been a consideration since the early days of the disease, and some are standing up to try to legislate methods of ameliorating the situation.
San Francisco’s supervisor Scott Wiener, who publicly stated he is on the drug, supports an initiative for making the drug more affordable, if not free, to everyone. Similar campaigns have been made several times over the last decade, but given the prophylactic nature of this drug, some feel that the possibility of the initiative getting more traction nationally is very real. Wiener expressed concern, in light of the number of young people he had encountered who were HIV positive, that people in the mainstream consider the disease a thing of the past, and that awareness is faltering instead of improving.
Many critics believe the Truvada will encourage risky sexual behavior. Although studies show that one in six gay males use a condom 100 percent of the time, it also true that there are 50,000 new cases of HIV nationwide and 2 million worldwide. By going on the offensive in the battle against HIV by making Truvada more available to more people, proponents are hoping that they will have found a truly effective weapon to help eradicate this disease that has claimed the lives of so many people.
By: J. Dylan Halen