Today, about 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV and according to the latest CDC data, more than 40,000 people in the United states were newly diagnosed in 2015.
But did you know that there’s a drug that is up to 99% effective at preventing transmission of the virus if taken daily? In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada to be used for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to reduce the risk of HIV transmission among individuals who do not have the virus and who are at high risk of being infected.
If you have not heard of PrEP, you’re not alone. Awareness, is one of the reasons so few people are actually taking the drug. According to the CDC, more than one million HIV negative people could benefit from Truvada, yet only 21,000 were on the drug as of 2015. And it doesn’t end with patients either. In fact, one third of primary care doctors and nurses are actually unaware as well.
Other reasons this HIV prevention method has not been widely adopted include access problems, and scare tactics from a small minority of HIV activists, who have created stigma around using this revolutionary drug. Perhaps the most notable of the naysayers is Michael Weinstein, head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), who has actively advocated against widespread use of Truvada for PrEP, referring to it as a ‘party drug.’
One mission-driven company, Nurx, aims to make the drug more accessible to those who need it most. In March of 2016, Nurx launched an app allowing people to get a prescription for PrEP and have it delivered to their door. So far, Nurx has launched their Truvada for PrEP service in California, Washington state, New York, and most recently, in Washington, DC.
According to the CDC’s newly released ‘HIV Surveillance Report’, our nation’s capital has the highest HIV diagnosis rate in the country, which is more than twice the rate of any state, and could perhaps get the most benefit from a service like this.
However, the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Michael Weinstein has criticized the CDC’s recommendation that 1.2 million people should be on PrEP and also Nurx for making the drug more accessible to everyone. According to Weinstein, “At a time when STD rates are skyrocketing, particularly among young people using hookup apps like Grindr and Tinder, we challenge the wisdom and ethics of an app that allows people to order a drug to prevent HIV as readily as ordering pizza.”
Instead, Weinstein has strongly pushed for the use of condoms, and condoms only, to be used. What a strange concept, particularly considering that, as HIV activist Josh Robbins points out, unlike Truvada for PrEP, condoms are actually not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for anal sex, and have a lower rate of protection against HIV.
Access issues and artificial stigma have both contributed to decreased uptake and use of PrEP across the country. In a time where a meaningful reduction in new HIV diagnoses is not only possible but actually achievable, prevention organizations need to throw everything they can behind helping eliminate HIV once and for all.