HIV 'prevention pill' met with hope, reservations - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

HIV 'prevention pill' met with hope, reservations

The pill regimen includes submitting to blood monitoring every three months for side effects. (Source: MGN Online) The pill regimen includes submitting to blood monitoring every three months for side effects. (Source: MGN Online)

Sept. 18 marks National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day.

Older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to be diagnosed with HIV infection late in the course of their disease, meaning a late start to treatment.

But what if there was a drug that could have helped them never contract the disease in the first place?

There already is. It's being called the "New Tool for HIV Prevention."

Truvada, or PrEP, is the first drug to hit the market to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to an uninfected individual.

The blue pill is already being touted by the World Health Organization and the Centers For Disease Control that, if used effectively, can play a huge role in helping to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the United States.

Studies have shown that when taken consistently, Truvada can reduce HIV transmission as much as 92 percent, findings comparable to perfect condom use.

Right now, it remains under strict guidelines for use. On top of that, not everyone is on board with the drug.

One of the largest AIDS organizations in the world, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has not thrown its support behind Truvada entirely.

The AHF believes the recommendations from the CDC and the World Health Organization are misguided.

The organization fears some will throw traditional ways of protection, like condoms, to the side and rely solely on the pill.

At this point, the loudest voice in support of the drug is coming from a place you might not expect.

That place is the porn industry, with porn mogul Peter Acworth of taking the lead.

"I'm probably not the best person to be a spokesperson for this," Acworth said. "I think the other AIDS charities need to step up and get the word out even in the face of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. However, it's true, I work with a number of higher-risk individuals, and that's the reason I'm on board with this."

The FDA approved PrEP back in 2012, but the CDC did not issue clear guidelines until this past May - hence the reason why it hasn't garnered much public attention.

"People in some senses, think this is too good to be true. 'If this was approved in 2012, why haven't I heard about it?' That was certainly my impression when I heard about it, 'this is too good to be true,'" added Acworth.

However, the drug is only good if it's taken daily and the CDC has a specific kind of user in mind, and Acworth does too.

"Some of our performers perform in movies, they are escorts, they do other forms of sex work. I would advocate this drug for them. That's why I'm interested in it and obviously anyone that has a partner who is infected with HIV," said Acworth.

"The CDC recommends PrEP for people who are at substantial risk for HIV, for instance a person in an ongoing relationship with a partner who has HIV or a person who injects, solicits drugs, or shares needles," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of CDC's Center for HIV/AIDS.

The pill regimen includes submitting to blood monitoring every three months for side effects while still offering counseling on safe sex practices like using condoms.

In the past few months, Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ali Hassoun in Huntsville has prescribed PrEP just five times.

"It's very few, but my expectation is that it is going to go up, but it's probably going to fill the high-risk population first and others later on," said Dr. Hassoun. "The reason for that, not just because of the cost, but there are chances of side effects. So it needs to be restricted in a way and directed by medical professionals, rather than just to be picked up by any person."

For a 30-day supply, wholesale Truvada comes with a price tag of $1,467.97.

However, Dr. Hassoun, who sees about 100 patients battling with the disease, said the cost of treating it is a different story; that could be in the range of $15,000 to 30,000 a year those infected spend on medication.

According to the FDA, each year, about 50,000 U.S. adults and adolescents are diagnosed with HIV infection; some of which walk through the doors of the Davis Clinic & The AIDS Action Coalition for education and treatment right here in Huntsville.

Director Mary Rozier-Hachen said PrEP is already being hit with the same skepticism like another drug decades ago.

"It is controversial in the same way that in the 60s, women who were not married, that wanted to have an option for birth control, faced stigma; HIV can be very stigmatizing," said Rozier-Hachen.

First comes opposition, then acceptance, Rozier-Hachen said she's waiting for that and will continue to educate people about HIV & AIDS.

"Just getting a prevention message out there. Whether it's about Truvada or whether it's about how to dialogue with your partner that the public just doesn't get to see," added Rozier-Hachen.

The manufacturer of PrEP admitted they are not actively marketing the drug, instead choosing to work with the healthcare community to help dole out the information.

For more information on the drug or how you can get tested for HIV, click on the links below.


Aids Healthcare Foundation:

Aids Action Coalition:

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