News / Health

    Americans Turn to AIDS Drugs to Prevent HIV Infection

    Gilead Sciences Inc. headquarters in Foster City, California, March 12, 2009 (file  photo)
    Gilead Sciences Inc. headquarters in Foster City, California, March 12, 2009 (file photo)

    Multimedia

    Derek Henkle

    New research in Africa confirms that a once-a-day pill, used to treat patients infected with the virus which causes AIDS, also works to prevent HIV infection in healthy people.

    For 20-year-old New Yorker James Krellenstein, the battle against HIV and AIDS is not a theoretical one.

    Not yet old enough to legally buy alcohol in the U.S., Krellenstein had a scare recently, which sent him looking for an emergency treatment to keep from contracting HIV. “I didn’t use a condom, I was drunk, it was not necessarily the wisest decision in my life. He could have been HIV positive, he could have been HIV negative, I don’t know and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life dealing with HIV," he said.

    James went on a month-long drug regimen that uses HIV medicines to try to keep the virus from attacking the body’s white blood cells and spreading.

    Noted AIDS researcher Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's essential that this emergency therapy be applied quickly to stop HIV infection. “Because if it infects one cell and that cell dies but doesn't infect another cell then the infection is over," he said.

    Doctors are already using AIDS drugs to prevent infections the way James was treated - as an emergency measure.

    But three new studies now seem to confirm that Truvada, a combination pill of two anti-retroviral drugs, may also be effective as a longer-term preventive measure, for people who might be exposed to HIV.

    The new studies focused on what’s called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, in heterosexual couples in Africa. They confirm an earlier study showing similar results among gay men.

    Dr. Raymond Martins heads an HIV/AIDS clinic in Washington. He says that while using the drugs to treat already HIV-positive patients helps keep them from transmitting it to others, PrEP is also a valuable tool to protect uninfected patients from the virus. “I’m very excited about this// We need a lot of options to prevent new HIV infections and pre-exposure prophylaxis looks like it’s going to one of those options," he said.

    Researchers say using PrEP provides a 62 to 73 percent chance of preventing infection.

    But while the drugs are effective, they are also expensive.

    It’s at pharmacies like Whitman Walker Health that government subsidies substantially bring down the cost of these life saving medications. Though Gilead, the manufacturer, has recently made an announcement that will impact the developing world by making the medication available for as low as 21 cents per day.

    Gilead has agreed to enter the UN Medicines Patent Pool, allowing their anti-retroviral drugs to be produced as a generic form for use in the developing world for both PrEP and HIV treatments.

    Here in the United States, Gilead says once the US Food and Drug Administration approves this use, the company may make the PrEP drugs available through a program that helps those who can't afford prescriptions.

    The medicines will still be produced as branded drugs in the United States, costing around $1,500 per month.

    James Krellenstein’s story is not unique. He’s part of the only demographic in America with increasing HIV infections.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that gay and bisexual men, just 4 percent of the U.S. male population, are 44 times more likely than heterosexual men to become HIV positive.

    “Most of my friends, straight or gay, don’t use a condom every time. I try to use a condom every time, I do, as a person who is relatively knowledgeable about this issue, it’s scary not to," Krellenstein said.

    Despite the benefits of the PrEP drugs, some public health experts worry they may lead to complacency about condom use.

    Brant Miller, like other AIDS activists, says he plans to continue aggressively promoting condoms. “It is a good way to prevent the spread of HIV that we’ve been using and has always worked, and will continue to work regardless of whether or not people have access to PrEP," he said.

    James Krellenstein says he is grateful he found a doctor to prescribe him anti-retrovirals, and he credits their use with his remaining HIV negative. He now runs a website called: PEPNow.org which links those seeking treatment with doctors who can help them.

    “I think the best way people can protect themselves is if they feel like they’re at risk for HIV infection, or after a high-risk sexual encounter, go to your health care practitioner as soon as possible, just so you can know the various options to prevent HIV," said Dr. Martins.

    Options that have doctors and patients both hoping this little blue pill, taken daily, will become a game changer in the global struggle to end the AIDS epidemic.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    South Pole Diary: In Round-the-clock Darkness, Radiant Moon Shines Like the Sun

    You hear more and see more when the moon first comes out; it’s your senses in overdrive, tuning into a new world.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora