Rolling Out

Truvada, HIV and the Black community

Truvada (Photo Source: CDC.GOV)
Truvada (Photo Source: CDC.GOV)

Today’s millennials seem to be ignoring a dreaded disease because of a perception that everything can be taken care of with a pill. The disease in question is HIV/AIDS and the pill that is changing the sexual behavior of many is called Truvada.

Truvada is produced by Gilead Sciences and offers HIV prevention in a pill. Truvada can be used for what is called “PrEP,” short for “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” the practice of using antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection. In the past, the official recommendation for HIV prevention was abstinence and condom use.  The pill is marketed to young gay men, persons in a relationship with an HIV-infected partner and sex workers. From January 2011 to March 2013, over 1,774 people have filled prescriptions for Truvada. This number does not include several thousand who are in clinical trials for Truvada. Surprisingly, 50 percent of the prescriptions issued were for women.  The rate of HIV infection is not slowing with over 50K new infections per year. These statistics include over 50 percent of men with a high number of these men being Black.

Truvada costs an estimated $1,300/month and may not be covered by insurance. The price of the drug is one reason it is not seen in more communities of color who are affected by HIV/AIDS.

Rolling out spoke with Dinishia Clark, program coordinator for the Black AIDS Institute of Los Angeles, regarding Truvada and the Black community.

Are there any statistics regarding Truvada use among the Black population?
Currently, there are no hard statistics. The drug is available in some communities but because of supply and demand it is not widely distributed. In Los Angeles, for example, there are only two community facilitators that offer the drug and services.  One organization does give the medication and counseling for free.

What Black groups are being targeted?
Because the drug is still in study phase, it is only available in some communities. We focus on men who have sex with men [MSM], Black transgender people and Black women who are at risk. Many sex workers can make more money if they do not use condoms, so a drug like Truvada is very important.

Do you think Truvada will lead to more risky sexual behavior like not using condoms, especially by Black youth?
Not at all, because remember the drug is geared towards people who are already in a relationship with an HIV-infected person. But the Black AIDS Institute does engage in capacity building, training and counseling for at-risk youth.

Are the side effects of the drug an issue for users?
Side effects are going to differ from person to person. Currently, we do not see too many users of Truvada complaining about extreme side effects.

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