If you haven’t heard, there is a feud going on between the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is the largest global HIV/AIDS healthcare provider in the world, and HIV/AIDS activists over his position on PrEP.
What is PrEP you are surely asking by now. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “PrEP is short for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It is a new HIV prevention method, in which people who do not have HIV take a daily pill to reduce their risk of becoming infected. When used consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection among adult men and women at very high risk for HIV infection through sex or injecting drug use.”
According to activist Michael Lucas, in an OP-ED piece for OUT magazine, “In the last twelve months PrEP, the HIV-prevention strategy that relies on a medication called Truvada, has gotten the attention of the national news media.” He adds that “it’s arguably the most important breakthrough in HIV medicine since the mid-1990s, when HIV was made no longer a death sentence, thanks to retro-antivirals and protease inhibitors.”
“The latest research shows that people who take PrEP on a daily basis achieve upwards of 90 percent protection from the virus. That’s a conservative estimate. In the largest study to date, not a single person who took PrEP as prescribed became HIV positive,” Lucas writes.
According to the Associated Press, “many doctors and activists see immense promise for such preventive use of Truvada, and are campaigning hard to raise awareness of it as a crucial step toward reducing new HIV infections, which now total about 50,000 a year in the U.S.”
So where’s the problem you may ask.
Well Michael Weinstein, head AHF, seems to be the problem. Weinstein told ABC News, “I think it [PrEP] will be a catastrophe for HIV prevention in this country,”
According to the AP, Weinstein stated that “If something comes along that’s better than condoms, I’m all for it, but Truvada is not that . . . Let’s be honest: It’s a party drug.”
Lucas writes that in “Weinstein’s eyes, PrEP isn’t about public health. It’s just a highly expensive way for those horny, irresponsible gays to go back to their barebacking-gone-wild.”
Lucas and a growing number of HIV/AIDS activists across the country are now calling on Weinstein to resign as President of AHF. Lucas thinks that “this man’s prurient imagination, gays are too busy enjoying their bareback orgies to be trusted with taking a once-daily pill. In his view, gay men using PrEP will stir up a frothy new drug-resistant strain of the virus. What evidence exists that this is a valid scientific concern? None. He has not even credited the fact that this form of prevention might and is being used by responsible gay men regardless of the sexual activity they are engaged in. Mr. Weinstein’s anti-PrEP position is an extension of his long-standing anti-promiscuity crusade and more importantly his continuation of harmful shame tactics.”
I agree with Lucas, “It’s now time to for our community to fight back against his shame-on-us rhetoric. It’s time for us to fight back and say, ‘shame on him.’”
PrEP has the potential to put a major dent in new cases of HIV infection, which now total about 50,000 per year in the U.S. alone, and is an exciting tool to help combat the spread of HIV globally.
Truvada costs between $8,000 and $14,000 per year and is too costly for far too many who are at risk so we need to work on reducing the cost and making it more widely accessible for this to be an effective tool. To simply call it “a party drug,” is just wrong and offensive to so many at risk individuals.
Weinstein must resign due to his outdated condoms only approach to safer-sex and HIV prevention. The research is there and he either needs to get with the times or step aside for the good of our community.