Will this pill stop HIV infections?
A blue pill is making its mark on history as closest thing to an HIV vaccine
Join us as we take a look inside Truvada.
Take a pill once a day and you essentially reduce your risk of contracting HIV by almost 99 percent— sounds like this would be an easy idea to back by activists and physicians who want to stop the 50,000 new HIV infections each year just in the U.S.
But the story of Truvada, the blue pill manufactured by Gilead Sciences, is just not that simple.
Renowned HIV/AIDS activist Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has called Truvada a “party drug” while Larry Kramer, whose play ‘The Normal Heart’ was just adapted for TV by HBO, says people who want to pop a pill once a day instead of use condoms must have “rocks in their heads.”
Last month, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines for providers on the use of PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, that includes Truvada as an HIV prevention tool along with other safer-sex practices, including condom use.
“While a vaccine or cure may one day end the HIV epidemic, PrEP is a powerful tool that has the potential to alter the course of the U.S. HIV epidemic today,” said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a statement. “These guidelines represent an important step toward fully realizing the promise of PrEP. We should add to this momentum, working to ensure that PrEP is used by the right people, in the right way, in the right circumstances.”
Truvada has been marketed by Gilead Sciences since 2004 as a drug to help in the treatment of those who are HIV positive. In 2012, the FDA approved Truvada as the first drug shown to reduce HIV infection rates—a major milestone in the fight to end the 30year HIV epidemic.
The FDA approval two years ago came after the groundbreaking 2010 study, known as iPrEx, which showed that when people—gay and bisexual men, heterosexual men and women and transgender women—took Truvada daily and consistently, they reduced their risk of contracting HIV by 99 percent.
Yet no one has been shouting the news from the rooftops in Georgia, which ranks sixth in the nation for new HIV infections, according to the CDC. Until now. At a recent town hall meeting hosted by Team Friendly Atlanta, an organization working to reduce HIV stigma, panelists discussed the need to educate the public about Truvada and dispel misinformation as well as stigma surrounding the drug.
The notion that gay men on Truvada will begin participating in risky behaviors—or become “Truvada whores”—hasn’t played out in research, said Dale Maddox, a clinical research nurse at Emory University School of Medicine AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.
When people are on PrEP they see their doctors more often, they are getting constant care and they are clearly reducing their risk of contracting HIV, she explained.
The scare tactics that condoms are the only safe way for gay men to have sex can be compared to the controversy when the birth control pill was approved in the 1960s, Maddox said. Moralists decried “the pill” as a gateway to untamed promiscuity by single women, and judgment was harsh. But none of the apocalyptic predictions of society’s downfall made back then came to be. Today, moralists cannot denounce Truvada, a proven effective tool to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, because it only hurts all of society, Maddox added.
“This is non-judgmental. This is a harm reduction technique,” she said. “It gives control to the user.”