FDA gives the green light for HIV preventive medication
17th July 2012
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is one of the world’s most deadly infections. It starts by attacking the body’s immune system (our natural defence against infection and disease). If left untreated, HIV can then develop into AIDS, meaning the sufferer is at a very high risk of catching infections due to the weakened immune system and in particularly the risk of pneumonia or cancer is huge. The disease is primarily transmitted by unprotected sex, contaminated blood transfusions and hypodermic needles, or from an infected mother to baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding. In 2010 it was estimated that 34 million people around the world have HIV. It is especially prominent in middle to low income countries, however even in the UK it is believed 86,500 people have HIV and in 2009 there were 6,630 new cases diagnosed. The disease is often described as a ‘pandemic’ and is one of a number of conditions that is a massive global issue for health authorities to try and tackle such as asthma, malaria, cardiovascular disease and obesity. With all this in mind, a milestone may have been reached on Monday when U.S. health regulators the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave their approval to an existing medication to be used as a preventive measure, which could potentially drastically reduce the risk of contracting HIV. ‘Truvada’ as it is named, is a small blue tablet that is to be taken once daily. It has been manufactured by the Californian pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences since 2004 for those who already have the virus. Indeed one study conducted back in 2010 showed that Truvada reduced the risk of HIV in healthy gay men by 42% when used with condoms and the men were given counselling as well. Also in a clinical study involving heterosexual couples in Africa, a 75% decrease in transmission rates was evident. For this study, one partner had HIV, whilst the other did not. Before receiving a prescription for the medication, patients must undergo a HIV test to make sure they do not already have the disease. There are concerns that the virus could develop a resistance to the drug, which those who are currently infected already take together with another drug. One major stumbling block for the average person will obviously be the financial aspect of the medication. Gilead Sciences say that just one year's supply will set you back a whopping $13,900. Although financial assistance is available for HIV-positive patients, those testing negative will have to shell out for the entire cost. Despite the promising signs shown in the clinical trials, there are those who are against the FDA’s ruling, fearing it could pave the way for a reckless attitude when it comes to sexual health. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, told reporters in a conference call, “Today marks a catastrophe in the fight against HIV in America. If you look back five years from today, you will see this decision by the FDA will cause there to be more infections, not less.” However, FDA officials have spoken out and counteracted Weinstein’s predictions. Dr Debra Birnkrant, FDA's director of antiviral products, said, “What we found was that condom use increased over time and sexually transmitted infections either remained at baseline levels or decreased. So in essence, we don't have any strong evidence that condoms were not used or there was a decrease in condom use.” As highlighted by Dr Birnkrant’s statement, condom use in men is vital to absolutely minimising the risk of contracting HIV, or many sexually transmitted infections that are currently rife such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes and many more. Medical Specialists Pharmacy made the headlines on Gay UK News last year after we teamed with Mates Condoms to give away free condoms for one week to all men who obtained any erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra. This was to promote World AIDS Day on 1 December, and you can read more about that within the ‘in the press’ section of our website. We also promoted World AIDS Day back in 2010 when we joined forces with Skins Condoms to give away condoms for one week. If you do suspect you have chlamydia, Medical Specialists Pharmacy offer the Clamelle chlamydia test kit from just £24.85, which can be used in the privacy of your own home to avoid an embarrassing visit to your GP. Or, if you have been confirmed as having this or gonorrhoea, the antibiotic Azithromycin can prevent the spread of the bacteria so that your body’s natural defences can fight back and remove the infection from your system. We also have the medication Valtrex from as little as £3.50 per tablet, which works by slowing the spread of the herpes virus.