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American Pharmacists Call for Taking HIV Prevention Pill Raising the Medicine’s Cost
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American Pharmacists Call for Taking HIV Prevention Pill Raising the Medicine’s Cost

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Getty Images /PrtSc

NBC News recently reported on Truvada (pronounced tru-vá-duh), or HIV PrEP, one of the bestt protective medicines against HIV, which was created by Gilead Sciences in 2012. According to NBC, it is now taken by only 1 of 9 people who might benefit from a daily pill to minimize their risk of getting HIV. “Many people worldwide still don’t get this pill [PrEP, or HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis] because they aren’t aware of it or because it’s unavailable or unaffordable,”they say. Meanwhile some Americans think otherwise. They are not only well informed about the existence of the pill, but even discourage others from buying the medicine, calling Gilead Sciences “evil incarnate” on social websites. What’s the reason?

As stated by the drug manufacturer, HIV PrEP is recommended for people at high risk for infection with HIV, especially men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs. According to the data presented by CDC, daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by more than 90% from sex and by more than 70% of drug injections.

For 12 years from 2006 to 2018, researchers managed to examine data from 72 published studies, that varied in size from 30 to about 6,500 participants. The results were published in the journal AIDS and point to Truvada’s improved effectiveness. “Self-reported PrEP use among these men is approximately doubling each year,” said lead study author Emiko Kamitani of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.“If current efforts to promote effective PrEP use are maintained, we may see maximum coverage of PrEP use within several years.”

“In the U.S. alone, an estimated 1.2 million people should be on PrEP,” the study authors note. “Only about 120,000 people have filled prescriptions at retail pharmacies between 2012 and early 2017, which suggests many who need treatment aren’t getting it.”

Two researchers who were not involved in the study gave their comments on the medicine. Matthew Beymer, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the David Geffen School of Medicine and at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said that many people who start PrEP don’t continue with treatment and those who would better to start taking PrEP don’t do it because they don’t consider themselves at high risk for developing HIV.

Julia Marcus, a researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, pointed that “there are multiple barriers to PrEP uptake among people who might benefit from PrEP, including not being aware of PrEP, inaccurate assessment of HIV risk, and the high cost of the medication and follow-up visits.” “We need to work toward mitigating each of these barriers if the population-level benefits of PrEP are to be realized,” she added.

However, the main barrier for customers to purchase medicine is its incredibly high cost. A drug doesn’t do much good if people can’t get it. Experts say that out-of-pocket expense is preventing a lot of people from taking the PrEP treatment to prevent HIV infection. Gilead Sciences has increased the price of their product by 45% since it was approved to prevent HIV infection in 2012. As for now, the drug – which rakes in billions of dollars in annual global revenue for its manufacturer – carries a list price of close to $2,000 for a 30-day supply. Critics say these price hikes are putting the drug beyond the reach of many who need it.

“If there is any example of the dysfunction in the American pharmaceutical system, it is this case,”says James Krellenstein, a member of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP New York. “We have the most effective tool for ending the HIV epidemic, and one reason we're unable to scale up is because it costs so [much] unnecessarily.”

Some states — California and Florida among them — have launched PrEP assistance programs that can help patients cover the cost of the medication, along with required lab work and medical visits.

Beyond these state-based programs, some public health departments and HIV service organizations are hiring PrEP navigators to help patients traverse the maze of copays and deductibles, and to improve recruitment and retention of new PrEP users.

Washington, D.C.’s health department is taking measures for HIV prevention, and Truvada is key in that effort, says Michael Kharfen, the department's senior deputy director for HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration. Insurance usually covers PrEP, and patient assistance programs should fill any financial gaps, but when that isn’t feasible, the department steps in, distributing free Truvada starter packs to at-risk patients.

Meanwhile AIDS Healthcare Foundation(AHF) prepared an open letter for CDC with the question “What if you are wrong about PrEP?” In this letter AHF emphasizes that CDC failed to mention or recognize condoms as a prevention tool for several times promoting PrEP instead.

 

Its up to everyone to decide whether to help Gilead Sciences make their billions of dollars or not. One thing is clear: getting ill in the U.S. is a really unprofitable for some, while it may cost others their lives.

Author: USA Really