This has been an incredible week; mark your calendars and make a mental note, because many health advocates are declaring this to be the first sign of a ‘tipping point’ in our battle against HIV/AIDS. And it’s tipping in our favour. The third and fourth major studies released today, that provide hopeful evidence that Truvada (aka a single pill combining doses of Tenofovir and Emtricitabine), taken once daily, is significantly, though not completely, effective at preventing HIV transmission between sexual partners. This is a BIG deal.
A little background: Truvada is owned by big Pharma company Gilead Sciences, and was approved by the FDA back in 2004 to be used as a one-a-day antiretroviral for patients with HIV. Back in November, 2010, a study conducted by the National Institute on Health on gay men in San Francisco at high risk for contracting HIV came back with promising results. A second study by Family Health International, testing the effectiveness of the pill on preventing transmission to women was ended early in April – unfortunately the results were not promising (although a vaginal gel, containing one of Truvada’s active ingredients, Tenofovir, was significantly effective in protecting women against HIV). Researchers theorized later that the study may have been flawed due to participant non-compliance.
The two studies released today, one from the CDC and one funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, studied the effectiveness of Truvada in preventing transmission between heterosexual couples in three different African countries, the very heart of the AIDS epidemic. The research used large sample sizes (4,758 couples and 1,200 individuals respectively) and both found Truvada to have significant protective effects for individuals taking it faithfully against HIV transmission (78% and 73% less chance of infection respectively).
So clearly more research needs to be done to further prove effectiveness and determine variables that will either augment or decrease that effectiveness. But this is really something! And, thanks to Gilead’s surprisingly un-corporate attitude, generic aka cheap versions of this patented medication are able to be produced and delivered as part of a larger HIV prevention strategy in Africa, Asia and around the world. It seems to be a good year for HIV prevention; first the Pope declares that condoms are ok for prostitutes and now we may actually be stumbling on a real chemical prevention for HIV, something that, while clearly not 100% effective, is a more viable option for many people who are not able to or choose not to use condoms.