Truvada: A good news day for the most at risk of HIV

Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma

144174705 300x199 Truvada: A good news day for the most at risk of HIVAhead of the International AIDS Conference next week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has approved a new ‘wonder’ drug called Truvada, which will help to reduce new HIV infections among some of the most vulnerable people.

The approval of this drug, which is a combination Tenofovir & emtricitabine pills – builds on the ‘treatment as prevention’ phenomenon as well as the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy. Some of the people who will benefit from this drug are HIV negative partners in relationships where one partner is HIV positive and the other is not. The HIV negative partner will be taking the drug to keep from developing HIV. In clinical trials, Truvada showed a reduction in transmission of up to 75%. The approval and efficacy of Truvada is really good news in the growing scientific journey of HIV treatments – and we need every bit of good news we can get to contribute to minimising new infections.

However, the good news masks some challenges that no-one really wants to talk about at this time through fear of spoiling the party surrounding the drug’s approval. The biggest issue is who is going to pay for this expensive medication in this economic climate. From the figures that are being quoted in various news articles, a course of treatment is going to cost up to $13,000 annually. We already have far too many people living with HIV who need treatment right now and are unable to get it.

Then there are also a whole list of side effects, starting with abnormal skin sensations and skin discoloration (small spots or freckles); back pain; cough;  diarrhoea; indigestion; joint pain; loss of appetite; nausea; strange dreams; sweating; tiredness; trouble sleeping; vomiting; weakness; weight loss and more. Speaking as somebody who has been on some sort of HIV treatment for more than 20 years and experienced my share of side effects, this is no small challenge! Just the fear of just experiencing some minor side effects can put people off treatment.

The other issue is treatment fatigue. Some research has recently been published which suggests that the longer a person living with HIV is on treatment, the more they tend to forget to, and/or become tired of, taking those drugs. HIV treatments are for life, at least for now. The approval of Truvada should be balanced out by the reality of people taking this drug in the long-term.

On another note, I also wish to share how inspired I feel having attended the first day of the INERELA+ general assembly which takes place every three years. The meeting took place at the Founder’s Library on the campus of Howard University, the first ever all-black University in the US.  INERELA+ got started just a little over ten years ago with the idea to bring together religious leaders living and affected by HIV and to use this comparative advantage to have an impact on other faith leaders & faith communities to reduce HIV related stigma and create HIV competent places of worship. A decade on, INERELA+ has a membership of over 7000 faith leaders and growing, and are seen as a critical partners in the HIV response. More power to them.

Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma is an Advocacy and Networks Officer for the Community Health & HIV team at Christian Aid. Winnie has also been living with HIV for almost 25 years.

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  • Bob_T

    Well that’s right forget precaution and just munch a tablet ensuring that overnight you double tablet sales and the chances of producing resistant strains. Absolute madness. This is profiteering by a Pharmaceutical company and because of patent protection it is also immoral because the very people who need it most cannot afford it. With Donald Rumsfeld as a major shareholder in and ex mentor of, Gilead I am sure it will be well marketed in an ethical manner

  • kawasakiman

    When the FDA approve a new ‘wonder’ drug, people make lots of money. This probably includes people at the FDA.

  • Sheila Price

    Wasn’t AIDS deliberately introduced, probably by same people? At least the Catholic(Jesuit ) priests can rest easy now.

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