The FDA has finally approved a new drug that prevents HIV infection. The medicine, Truvada, is a daily pill expected to be taken by people at a high-risk of becoming infected with HIV (gay and bisexual men usually, but the drug has been approved for all HIV-negative people). This is awesome news for public health here in America, especially considering the increasingly- cavalier attitudes towards HIV of lots of American young people.
Although there had been doubts as to the drug’s side effects, NPR reports that:
An outside panel of experts had recommended the agency take the action after concluding that the benefits to healthy people vulnerable to HIV infection outweigh the risks, including such side effects as kidney damage and a dangerous increase in acid in the blood.
Critics of the drug feel that users may feel that Truvada may encourage risky sexual behavior, but taking the drug isn’t a license to practice unsafe sex. In a media briefing, the FDA’s Dr. Debra Birnkrant said, “Truvada alone shouldn’t be used to prevent HIV infection.” Truvada should be used in conjunction with condoms or other barrier methods, to further prevent infection. And people who take it should be tested for HIV every three months, so treatment can begin promptly if an infection is found.
While this isn’t the answer to the HIV crisis (which is still continuing here in the US, with over 50,000 people infected each year), it’s a step towards a solution. I was shocked to learn that many of my peers don’t see HIV as a threat anymore, especially since the advent of drugs that make living with the virus easier than ever: one person who responded to an NPR query said he saw HIV/AIDS as “somewhat of a myth, almost like a folklore.” But HIV is not a myth; it’s a real virus that affects real people both here and abroad, and it’s still a matter for extreme caution and concern, at least in my opinion.
Options for people at risk for HIV are continuing to widen: the FDA also recently granted approval to OraQuick, an at-home HIV test. Truvada, though, can cost from $11,000 to $14,000 a year to use, though, which could very well be a financial barrier to many of the people who could benefit from it.