[dc]I[/dc]t used to be that if you heard the term, “HIV/AIDS,” most people would react in fear. Today, however, after exhaustive years of research and development on germane protocols, most of those knee-jerk apprehensions have been quelled.
From the 18-pill-a-day cocktail regimen that choked and repulsed and gagged the poor, suffering, nearly destined-to-die patients, the medications are much more manageable, less severe, and less dreadful.
Nevertheless, HIV/AIDS is still here and is determined to stay with us in some form or at some level despite all our efforts. Thus, we cannot pretend, nor should we, that HIV/AIDS is no longer a threat and can safely be ignored (the way it was in the beginning—and look how regretful and horrified we are today over our early denials and delays). Indeed, we can now say that each passing year brings more promising possibilities and this year is one of them.
It is important, then, that the public be made aware of the most current medications and prophylactics to deal with this scourge. In keeping with that imperative, I am excited about a new drug that has been researched and developed and is presently available for use. It already has the approval of the FDA which states unequivocally that this medication is both safe and effective.
The drug is a pill called Truvada. It “is a medication called a nucleoside analog reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) that is used to treat HIV-1 infection in adults and teenagers (12 and older).” It is a combination therapy because it uses two medicines in one pill.
What is beautiful and amazing about this drug is that, in a recent clinical study, 100% of participants in the at-risk group have remained free of infection
The bottom line is that Truvada “makes it harder for HIV-1 to multiply by blocking an enzyme in [one ’s] body called reverse transcriptase.” Consequently, those who have not been infected and even for those who are newly infected can benefit from its use because of how it prevents proliferation of the disease-bearing cells of this disease.
What is beautiful and amazing about this drug is that, in a recent clinical study, 100% of participants in the at-risk group have remained free of infection (for more than 2 years now) after taking this pharmaceutical which was developed specifically to prevent the onset of HIV altogether. Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco ran the study with “600 high-risk individuals, most of whom were men who have sex with men,” and were healthy at the onset and throughout the study.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that this advanced drug—pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—can reduce infection by at least 92% if taken correctly and consistently—key words here. As with most medications, the efficacy is reduced if the consumer skips days or is otherwise inconsistent with self-administration of the drug. I cannot emphasize enough just how important it is for the individual who wants to prevent infection to take the drug as directed—without exception.
As an MS patient, I was always told that skipping even one day of self-injection could produce deleterious effects (and PrEP is so much easier to use because it is simply a pill to be swallowed and not a shot to be endured).
There has been concern that some at-risk people might decide that, because they are taking this prophylactic drug, they would participate in risky behavior, such as not using condoms during sexual encounters. It is important to note that PrEP is not meant to prevent other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so it would be a grave mistake to party-on without taking proper precautions to avoid other health issues.
Other questions have been raised as well:
- How many people will choose to take this daily drug for life?
- How and by whom will the costs for doctor visits and the medication itself be covered? Right now, the drug would cost an individual user about $10,000 a year but such costs are covered by most private insurance companies and by Medicaid.
- Again, how many will understand that the use of condoms is imperative along with ongoing testing and determination ahead of time that one’s partner is also protected?
- Will there be adequate and widespread dissemination of education to inform all people—heterosexual and LGBT? Certainly, health classes (which are currently required at the middle and high school levels in many districts) must include education about what HIV/AIDS is and how to deal with the reality of it
All health clinics in America and worldwide must also make this information readily available and shared with all patients who use health clinics, regardless of the reason why the patient is there in the first place.
The purpose behind the development of Truvada (PrEP) is to make it difficult for infection to take hold in the first place. We must keep in mind that no drug is efficacious 100% of the time because there are always exceptions. Yet, this drug does show great promise based on the information gleaned from a number of independent studies. Interestingly, it has been demonstrated that women, in particular, become protected after taking these pills for only three weeks.
Research has shown that over one million Americans would be best served if they take this drug because of their sexual activities (even among “straights”) and because of drug injection. Very positive results have been shown by those who have utilized this drug, having dramatically reduced the onset of infection, particularly for gay men.
Sadly, despite all that has been learned about PrEP, far too many practicing physicians are totally oblivious to its existence. Yes, it is their fault for being uninformed but that is why we must make a concerted effort to notify not only medical personnel but the public at-large.
Certainly, the use of PSAs on television and radio and through social media outlets must be given a prominent place. Encouraging celebrity endorsements would be so helpful—consider how effective that has been for campaigns like sex trafficking, raising the wage, reducing excessive water use (especially during this period of drought), creating energy-efficiencies, working on efforts for accountability of corporations (such as banks and oil companies) that have been called “too big to fail.” Most significant among these efforts has been the ongoing campaigns regarding safe sex—which takes us back to this drug.
Yes, this article is a call to informed action. Protecting the health of others protects our own health as well. Thus, informing ourselves, sharing data with others, and keeping up to date on new data and treatments must be a mandate for all of us. We cannot lose another person who might have been . . . because he or she had succumbed to what was at one time always a deadly disease but no longer has to be.