Pills may soon rival condoms in HIV prevention

Pills may soon rival condoms in HIV prevention (AFP Photo / Getty Images)
An antiviral drug Truvada may soon become the next solution to HIV prevention, while scientists continue to dig for a vaccine. The FDA is likely to approve the medicine for ‘pre-exposure prophylaxis’ by June 15.

Truvada is a trade-name for a combination of two antiviral drugs produced by an American biopharmaceutical company in California. Since 2004, it has been widely prescribed to people already infected with HIV. However, an expert committee at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended last week that the medicine be offered daily to uninfected people to prevent them from being infected.

"It's potentially a valuable addition to the existing HIV prevention methods, and we welcome it," New Scientist quoted a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization. "Full FDA approval will encourage countries needing additional prevention methods to undertake their own regulatory approval processes. The WHO is in the process of producing new guidance to countries on pre-exposure prophylaxis, and plans to release this in the coming two months."

It is expected that the primary “target groups” for such preventive treatment would be homosexual men and uninfected partners in couples where one individual is HIV-positive. If approved by the FDA, the use of Truvada for prevention rather than treatment could scale up the overall efforts in the battle to stop the spread of HIV.

And yet, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein is weary of how people will use the pill.

"I believe that this could be catastrophic in terms of HIV prevention,” he warns.

The argument against approving the pill, says Weinstein, is that it will encourage unprotected sex. While the pill is proven to work in many cases, it is not 100 per cent guaranteed. The result, he says, could only make things worse for AIDS and HIV.

It is worth of mentioning, however, that the FDA has a tendency to accept the advice of its expert committees.