As the TIME Red Aware Week approaches, it is imperative to bring your attention to one of the important issues in global health today – HIV/AIDS.
An estimated 26,900 people in Australia alone live with HIV right now. Around the world, there are 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS and 1.5 million people died from HIV related issues in 2013.
Research shows that most viral transmissions in Australia and around the world occur among men who have sex with men. A trend in current conversation around the cause of transmission is a lot around discrimination, stigma, and homophobia; undiagnosed and untreated STDs that increase risk of transmission, lack of education/awareness and of course, poverty and lack of access to services.
Global health groups around the world have talked and worked to raise awareness, donated to research, informed people about condoms and other methods of protection, testing and treatment – all of which have already had a huge impact. Did you know that in December 2014, HIV/AIDS reached its tipping point? That means that at that moment, more people in the world were on HIV treatment than there were new infections. That is an impressive step!
However, we need to do more. A little research revealed that individuals were choosing to go without condoms despite the knowledge and the awareness of the risks involved. This specifically applied to men to have sex with men (MSM) in Sub-Saharan Africa and the most common causes were irritation and friction related pain during intercourse, condom failure, and poor choice of lubricants. So are there any other options other than condoms or abstinence?
Let’s talk about Truvada.
Emtricitabine/Tenofovir DF or “Truvada” are nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors that act to inhibit viral replication. They are part of a regimen called “PrEP” or pre-exposure prophylaxis. The use of this medication by HIV-negative people reportedly reduces risk of HIV infection. As you can probably imagine, this is a highly controversial topic but let’s look at some pros and cons:
- Current infection remains steady, this would be an additional option to the current HIV prevention strategies
- There may be a discrepancy between public perception of HIV and the reality. The reality may be normal life span and few physical consequences other than the side effects of the medication, which users of the prevention were willing to tolerate before they were even infected. However the stigma, that HIV is a terrible and highly contagious virus, may be the more significant source of suffering – people may choose the prevention.
- A study following couples – in which – one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative – indicated that if taken properly, Truvada’s efficacy can be as high as 90%. There could be a possibility of relationships that might not have been realistic before.
- Enormous cost of around $13,000 a year
- Condoms are quite effective at preventing spread if used correctly and are much cheaper.
- False sense of security and increased risk of acquiring other sexually transmitted illnesses that are equally, if not more life threatening.
So what do you think? Is this something we could possibly think about or do the costs outweigh the benefits? Let us know!
Very controversial and old condom awareness ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U219eUIZ7Qo
Truvada user: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjUbASchKR8
This week on global health: A podcast website for global health issues http://www.twigh.org/
How Stigma Surrounding the Use of HIV Preexposure Prophylaxis Undermines Prevention and Pleasure: A Call to Destigmatize "Truvada Whores". http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26270298
Words by Sula Gupta, Manager of Events for TIME 2015