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Friday, July 01, 2016

Expanding Access to the HIV Prevention Pill, Truvada

Thrilled to be guest blogging with Prawfs this month!

To kick things off, I thought I’d highlight some of the barriers that are preventing widespread access to Truvada, a once-daily pill that can help prevent infection with HIV even if exposed to the virus. Although approved by the FDA for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis (or “PrEP”) in 2012, awareness of Truvada as a tool for preventing the spread of HIV is not universal, and several barriers to uptake exist.

According to the CDC, daily use of PrEP can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by over 90%. Importantly, Truvada is not a replacement for condoms, and should be used with condoms (particularly since Truvada doesn’t prevent other STDs). The CDC recommends that those at “substantial risk” of HIV consider taking Truvada. In America, about 1.2 million straight and queer people engage in behavior that puts them at “substantial risk” of HIV, and yet the number of people taking Truvada as PrEP numbers only in the tens of thousands. If taken more widely, PrEP could meaningfully reduce the number of people infected with HIV each year, which has remained steady over the past few years at about 50,000 new infections each year. (More than 1.2 million people in the United States are currently living with HIV).

As outlined in a wonderful new report by Duke Law’s Carolyn McAllaster and the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI), the key barriers to PrEP uptake include lack of awareness, stigma, and cost/access. Of these, I want to draw attention to two key points.

First, as recognized by the White House’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, HIV stigma remains one of principal roadblocks in preventing, detecting, and treating HIV. In addition to discouraging PrEP, HIV stigma contributes to what is known as the care continuum, where, according to estimates, roughly 86% of those with HIV are diagnosed, only 40% are engaged in care, and only 30% are virally suppressed through use of anti-retrovirals. But, unfortunately, certain government policies, such as the FDA’s blood donation deferral policy toward gay and bisexual men and laws that criminalize HIV transmission, stigmatize HIV and push it further into the shadows. But there is also PrEP-specific stigma, with some suggesting that those who use Truvada are promiscuous and irresponsible, when, in reality, taking PrEP is sexually responsible.

Second, as the SASI report notes, while HIV is disproportionately spreading in the South and, there, disproportionately among black women and black men who have sex with men, most Southern states have not adopted Medicaid expansion. Why is this significant? Medicaid and most private insurers will actually help pay for Truvada, which costs about $1,300 a month. But nearly 3 million adults fall in the so-called “coverage gap” between traditional Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s insurance subsidies (a gap that Medicaid expansion would cover). And 89% of people in the coverage gap are in the South, the region most in need of HIV prevention tools. As such, without Medicaid expansion, millions of people lack health insurance, including many who may have indications for PrEP.

That’s enough for now, but for those interested in additional steps that can be taken to expand access to PrEP and prevent the spread of HIV, I once again recommend the SASI report!

Posted by Scott Skinner-Thompson on July 1, 2016 at 02:42 PM in Current Affairs, Gender, Science | Permalink


I'd be glad to have the option of filtering out hiv+ guys, just like there are already filters for race and age.
Just a quick example, I was talking a few nights ago with a guy I've noticed on a few of the apps. Banal conversation about a recent breakup I've been dealing with. After an hour or so he moves the conversation to sex, sends me several pics, and says he wants to meet me to make me feel better. Meaning sex.

Posted by: ชุดตรวจ hiv ด้วยตัวเอง | Jul 22, 2016 3:54:41 AM

Important question; thanks. To be deemed a required preventive service under the ACA, Truvada would need to be recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of experts. A recent article by Jason Burda outlines some of the hurdles Truvada would face in getting listed as a required preventive service. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2489457
When considering whether to recommend a service, the Task Force undertakes a form of cost-benefit analysis and, as Burda notes, the current high cost of Truvada likely would hinder an effort to get it recommended. From what I could glean from the Task Force website, Truvada is not currently being considered by the Task Force as a required preventive service. Burda's article does a nice job of laying out the benefits such a designation would have for HIV prevention.

Posted by: Scott Skinner-Thompson | Jul 4, 2016 2:45:45 PM

The "it's too new" reason is suggested by this article:


Posted by: Joe | Jul 2, 2016 10:56:23 AM

One thing I've been wondering about for the past few years is why no one talks about covering Truvada within the preventive services guarantee of the Affordable Care Act. There are other recommendations specifically for high-risk populations, so that's not the issue. Is there some other statutory or regulatory barrier? Or is it just too new?

Posted by: JHW | Jul 1, 2016 10:35:22 PM

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