New York – From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which — in their view — remains woefully underused.
Marketed in the United States as Truvada, and sometimes available abroad in generic versions, the pill has been shown to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent if taken daily. Yet worldwide, only about a dozen countries have aggressive, government-backed programs to promote the pill. In the U.S., there are problems related to Truvada’s high cost, lingering skepticism among some doctors and low usage rates among black gays and bisexuals who have the highest rates of HIV infection.
“Truvada works,” said James Krellenstein, a New York-based activist. “We have to start thinking of it not as a luxury but as an essential public health component of this nation’s response to HIV.”
A few large U.S. cities are promoting Truvada, often with sexually charged ads. In New York, “Bare It All” was among the slogans urging gay men to consult their doctors.
“We’ve got the tools to not only end the fear of HIV, but to end it as an epidemic,” said the center’s chief of staff, Darrel Cummings.
In New York, roughly 30 percent of gay and bisexual men are using Truvada now, up dramatically from a few years ago, according to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, a deputy commissioner of the city’s health department.
However, Daskalakis said use among young black and Hispanic men — who account for a majority of new HIV diagnoses — lags behind. To address that, the city is making Truvada readily available in some clinics in or near heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , Truvada would be appropriate for about 1.2 million people in the U.S. — including sex workers and roughly 25 percent of gay men. Gilead Scientific, Truvada’s California-based manufacturer, says there are only about 145,000 active prescriptions for HIV prevention use.
Under federal guidelines, prime candidates for preventive use of Truvada include some gay and bisexual men with multiple sexual partners, and anyone who does not have HIV but has an ongoing sexual relationship with someone who has the virus.
Critics warned that many gay men wouldn’t heed Truvada’s once-a-day schedule and complained of its high cost — roughly $1,500 a month.
Gilead offers a payment assistance plan to people without insurance that covers the full cost. Some cities and a few states — including Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington — also help cover costs.
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