Australia is on track to end infections with new HIV drug
There are plenty of medications that are taken every day. Insulin, vitamins, and high blood pressure medications are a few examples. With the exception of birth control, most daily drug regimens are taken to treat pre-existing conditions. There is a daily drug regimen called PrEP, in existence since 2012, that can prevent a person from contracting HIV. While the drug, Truvada, has been receiving increased media attention in recent years, it has been successfully used in Australia for some time. This drug has significantly reduced the incidences of new HIV in Australia. What has made it so successful?
How PrEP works
PrEP is an acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis. The idea behind this process is to give the human body a way to defend itself against HIV before exposure to the virus ever occurs. To be clear, PrEP is the name of the process that prevents the transmission of HIV. Truvada is the drug that severely decreases a person’s chances of becoming HIV positive. In Australia, a person can buy Truvada for the nominal fee of $28 a month. This medication is intended for people who are not already infected by HIV, but belong to a group that is at high risk of getting the disease.
At-risk groups include gay and bisexual men, intravenous drug users, and transgender individuals. Truvada is most effective when taken on a daily basis. HIV becomes an infection when the virus copies its own DNA and replicates within the body. Truvada has an enzyme that destroys HIV’s ability to replicate, so the virus can enter a person’s body without infecting them or making them a carrier of the disease. Many studies have shown that an HIV negative person on a daily Truvada regimen can safely have regular intercourse with an HIV positive person without becoming infected.
A perfect case
Australia is a unique case because the country’s universal healthcare system was adopted in the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Policymakers and leaders in healthcare had the golden opportunity to tackle the problem head-on in an environment where all citizens have access to the same level of healthcare. Leading researchers claim that type of environment is a large part of the reason efforts to reduce the transmission of HIV in Australia have been so effective.
Doctors at all levels of healthcare have been encouraged to introduce the idea of a PrEP regimen to patients, especially those who are at high risk of being affected by HIV. In three decades, the widespread use of PrEP has reduced new annual cases of HIV by 65%. Although PrEP is available in several countries, Australia is one of the few countries where the overwhelming majority of people in at-risk groups take Truvada regularly.
Hurdles to overcome
Truvada was made in America, but the drug is much cheaper in Australia than it is in other parts of the world. In Australia, HIV has been a public health focus, but the disease does not always receive as much attention from all members of the legal and medical system elsewhere. Poor representation is also a large contributing factor to why PrEP has not been as effective in the rest of the world. PrEP is often presented in the media as a drug that allows a person to be sexually irresponsible without penalty. The makers of Truvada do not agree with this mistaken sentiment. The label explains that the drug will not prevent STIs and that safe sex practices should still be used.
Truvada is certainly amazing, but it is not fail-safe. There has been one case of a man on a PrEP regimen who contracted HIV. Regardless of the social and financial challenges to the widespread use of PrEP, the effectiveness in Australia gives researchers and doctors alike hope that HIV can become nonexistent worldwide.