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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs