Eliminating HIV/AIDS isn’t possible without increased access to PrEP

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN

Lucy Marx, News Editor

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Lucy Marx

HIV isn’t treated with the same urgency it once was. 

U.S. cases of HIV/AIDS have decreased massively since the initial outbreak in the 1980s, but the disease continues to be a problem, in part because the preventative medication is so expensive.

PrEP, short for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is when people at high risk for HIV take a daily drug to prevent infection. 

The prescription drug Truvada is the most widely used PrEP medication, reducing the risk of infection by 99% when taken daily. 

Sounds great, right? But there’s a catch. 

A month’s supply costs an estimated $6 to make, but the average retail price for a month’s supply is about $1,700.

Only about one-third of at-risk people take PrEP, and the high prices disproportionately affect those with lower socioeconomic status. 

The drug Truvada is manufactured by Gilead Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company that makes roughly $3 billion annually on the drug. 

Gilead has been involved in multiple lawsuits and congressional hearings over the last year facing claims that the company has withheld safer versions of the drug in order to make more money and uses patented ingredients rather than generic ones in order to keep prices high. 

It’s frankly absurd that a drug exists that can nearly wipe out the risk for HIV, and yet it remains unavailable to much of the population. 

This issue only furthers the strong misconceptions about HIV survivors.

Now that preventative medication is available, HIV is perceived by some as a consequence of neglect. 

But it’s not the same as grabbing a handful of condoms out of a bowl in a health office unless they’re hundreds of dollars each. It’s a financial investment, even a sacrifice for most, just to have safe sex. 

Safe sex shouldn’t cost the same as college tuition.

This week, California took a step toward increased PrEP availability by making the drugs available without a prescription. This eliminates the need to go to a primary care provider for the drug, which can sometimes take months, and get the drug straight from a pharmacy. 

Additionally, President Trump stated in his State of the Union Address that he plans to eliminate the spread of HIV by 2030. This will be impossible without widespread access to PrEP. Temporary solutions have been put in place, with Gilead donating Truvada to the government for distribution. While this is a step in the right direction, the cost of the drug must lower in order to be permanently accessible to the at-risk population and in turn stop the spread of HIV.

The monopoly on PrEP in America is outrageous and dangerous. It affects minorities and people of color disproportionately and furthers the alienation of gay people in the US. 

California is leading the fight for PrEP availability with the elimination of the need for a prescription, but the momentum has to continue. 

It’s time for safe sex to be available for all, not just those who can afford it.

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