Wednesday, December 2, 2015

An HIV-Preventing Drug Exists, But Isn't Being Used

Back in 2012, the FDA approved the first drug for the prevention of HIV infection in otherwise healthy persons who might be at risk for infection due to exposure to an infected partner. The drug, called Truvada, prevents HIV infections 92% of the time, meaning that it could sharply reduce the number of new HIV infections if it were widely used. That turns out to be a big "if", for hardly anyone seems to be using the drug.

The drug's manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, Inc., has made a lot of money ($1.8 billion in 2014) from the use of the drug to treat HIV-infected patients. But it has made no effort to market Truvada for use in healthy persons solely for the purpose of preventing HIV infection. The company says that it just isn't profitable to market the drug for HIV prevention. And as a result of a lack of marketing, many physicians and nurses are simply unaware that the drug has been approved and is available for HIV prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three primary care doctors and nurses have never even heard of the potential use of Truvada for what is called preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Lesson learned: government health officials will have to take the greater role in educating primary care physicians and nurses about Truvada for PrEP. Health officials in New York are already doing so according to the CDC, and as a result the number of NY medicaid beneficiaries receiving PrEP more than quadrupled between 2014 and 2015.

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