A pill designed to prevent the spread of HIV has shown promising results according to two new studies. The pill is meant to stop HIV infections before they start, and is targeted at high risk individuals. Previously, the pill had proven its worth in controlled clinical studies, but the new studies suggest that it is also highly effective in the real world. Given the early results, the pill could mark a huge breakthrough in getting HIV under control and protecting vulnerable communities.
While the HIV hysteria of the late 1980’s and early 90’s has died down, the disease remains a serious threat in the United States and elsewhere. It is estimated that nearly 1.3 million Americans have been infected with HIV. Further, approximately 13 percent of those infected are believed to be unaware of their infliction, meaning they could unknowingly spread the disease, making it harder to control.
A new treatment called Truvada has been approved in the United States for preventing the spread of HIV. Early research suggests that the pill could reduce the spread of the disease by as much as 92 percent. If true, the treatment could help slow the spread of the disease.
Truvada has already proven itself in controlled clinical environments, but some doubted that it would prove so effective in the real world. Clinical trials where conditions are tightly controlled are one thing, but the real world is a messy place. So far, however, the results of real world studies suggest that Truvada will live up to its high-expectations.
Real world data, however, suggests that the pill is very effective. In one study, researchers tracked 657 people from San Francisco who took daily doses of Truvada, and not a single person contracted the HIV virus. The vast majority of the San Francisco subjects were gay men. In another study conducted in the United Kingdom, researchers found conclusive evidence that those who took the pill were at a much lower risk.
Interestingly, half of the people in the San Francisco study contracted a different type of sexually transmitted disease, but no one contracted HIV. This suggests that people were still “getting busy”, and were engaging in high risk practices, but despite this, no one contracted HIV.
A similarly conducted UK study, which also focused on gay men, say infections per 100 men drop from 9 to 2, a huge decrease. Further, researchers believe that as many as two-thirds of those infected in the UK study may have actually contracted HIV before taking the drug.
In 2016, President Obama requested nearly $31 billion dollars for HIV, including for research, prevention, and treatment. $25.3 billion would be set aside for domestic efforts, while a further $6.3 billion for global efforts. If HIV can be prevented from spreading, the potential cost savings could be massive.
According to the Center for Disease Control “Men who have sex with men” (MSM) suffer the highest rates of HIV. In 2010 MSM accounted for approximately 29,800 of those who were infected with HIV. This number represents a 12 percent increase from 2008.
The threat is most serious for gay men, who suffer from abnormally high infection rates. In 2010, the estimated number of new HIV infections among MSM was 29,800, a significant 12% increase from the 26,700 new infections among MSM in 2008.
Although MSM represent about 4% of the male population in the United States, in 2010, MSM accounted for 78% of new HIV infections among males and 63% of all new infections. MSM accounted for 54% of all people living with HIV infection in 2011, the most recent year these data are available.
Recent advances in AIDs and HIV treatment have reduced the threat of HIV, but treatment for those infected remains costly. A pill that could potentially prevent infection could save countless people from anguish and the need to undergo expensive healthcare.
Many people who suffer from HIV can live healthy, relatively normal lives thanks to advances in AIDS treatment. The costs of such treatment, however, is very expensive. In the United States, treatment costs range from $2,500 to $5,000 per month. Lifetime costs can thus top half a million dollars.
If drugs like Truvada can prevent the spread of HIV, they could not only protect people, but also reduce the burden of treatment costs. Time and time again preventative medicine has proven to be able to reduce healthcare costs.
Generally speaking HIV doesn’t kill people directly, but instead weakens their immune system, thus making them more susceptible to complications from other diseases. This also makes HIV harder to track. An estimated 13,712 people with HIV died in 2012, though it remains unclear how many died directly as a result of the virus itself.