Local politicians work for HIV prevention pill awareness, access

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Some are calling it a game-changer. A pill produced in the Bay Area is said to nearly eliminate the risk of contracting HIV.

Some are calling it a game-changer. A pill produced in the Bay Area is said to nearly eliminate the risk of contracting HIV.

A local politician is the first to disclose he's taking the medicine, which is still controversial.

Openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener said he is HIV-negative and wants to remain healthy. That's why he is taking a drug called Truvada. He is the first politician in the nation to make that public announcement.

"The reason I decided to be public is to try to dramatically raise awareness about, not just PrEP's existence but how effective it is," Wiener said.

The FDA approved Truvada in 2012. The pill, also known as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Propgylaxis), is produced by Gilead in Foster City. Taken once a day, it is said to be 90 to 99 percent effective in preventing HIV.

On Thursday, supporters called Wiener brave for disclosing his use because the drug has a stigma in the gay community.

Fewer than 3,000 people nationwide, about 800 of them in San Francisco, use it.

"A lot of people think if you take PrEP you're going to be promiscuous and have way more partners than normally have, but studies show you pretty much stay the same," Truvada patient Adam Zeboski said.

Much of the criticism has come from the Los Angeles based AIDS Health Care Foundation. Their San Francisco pharmacy fills Truvada prescriptions but their regional director said the pill is not ready for wide-scale distribution.

"Because it's premature, we don't know enough about what adherence levels need to be taken in order for the drug to be effective. Access is another concern," Aids Health Care Foundation Regional Manager Dale Gluth said.

Access was the topic at a City Hall hearing on Thursday. Supervisor David Campos is asking for an $800,000 budget supplement to educate patients and provide subsidies for the drug that can cost up to $1,800 a month.

Wiener's health insurance pays for his pill. He said his district, which includes the Castro, is ground zero for the HIV epidemic and he wants to help stop it in its tracks.

Related Topics:
healthsan francisco board of supervisorsprescription drugsdrugFDAhealth careHIVAIDSSan Francisco City HallSan Francisco
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