The HIV-prevention drug Truvada, a.k.a. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) has been a topic of approximately 9 trillion conversations in gay bars over the last year, in large part due to the growing awareness of its reported effectiveness in stopping the spread of HIV without having to use condoms. Now, Supervisor David Campos is launching an initiative to get San Francisco to make the drug more available to all who want it, regardless of their ability to pay.
"PrEP is the first new tool in our fight to protect ourselves from HIV since the epidemic began," says Campos. "San Francisco has been at the forefront of efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS through innovative measures and needs to continue that tradition."
A little background: Truvada/PrEP is a single pill by the drug-maker Gilead that contains two anti-HIV retrovirals, and in 2012, it became the first drug for use in HIV prevention for HIV-negative individuals to be approved by the FDA. A study at UCSF showed that daily use of Truvada was 90 to 99 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission however the debate about the accuracy of that percentage rages on; dueling pieces in the New York Times and New York Magazine over the summer did well to sum up that debate.
Many are still wary of both the cost (if not covered by some platinum-level health insurance, the drug can cost $8,000 to $14,000 a year) and the possible side effects (and lack of any long-term studies), though anecdotal evidence and data from the UCSF study suggests side effects to be surprisingly minimal.
In terms of cost and access, Campos's new proposal could go a long way to changing the way gay men in San Francisco think about the drug. As Dana Van Gorder, Executive Director of Project Inform says, "Groups in San Francisco are taking steps to address barriers to PrEP use by creating more places where it is being prescribed, working to reduce or eliminate the cost of its use, and making sure that community members have the facts upon which to make a choice about using it."
And Campos adds, "I am committed to taking the steps necessary to ensure access to all individuals wanting PrEP regardless of income - embracing PrEP now will stop new infections and save lives."
Campos is holding a rally at City Hall on Thursday, September 18 to call for S.F. to take a leadership role in the distribution of PrEP. And then he'll be holding a hearing with the Neighborhood Services & Safety Committee with community stakeholders to "develop a plan to provide additional resources for PrEP," including providing funding and patient assistance to ensure easy access to PrEP.