To test preventive approach, Philly AIDS group recruits men at risk of HIV infection

    The AIDS organization Philadelphia Fight is recruiting young, HIV-negative gay men of color to a support group where they will be given a preventive AIDS drug.

    The group will accept 15 men between the ages of 18 and 29, provide free medical care, and dispense the drug Truvada at weekly prevention meetings.

    Truvada was approved in July for use as a pre-exposure prophylactic for those at high risk of contracting HIV.

    Three months later, Philadelphia Fight director Jane Shull said not a lot of people are using the drug this way, especially in the highest risk groups.

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    “One of the most important things that we hope results from having this group is that the people who participate and get involved become ambassadors for using pre-exposure prophylaxis in the gay community,” Shull said.

    In a major clinical trial, men who took the drug faithfully were 73 percent less likely to get HIV than those taking placebos. The men who took it inconsistently had only a 21 percent reduction in infection.

    “What we’re trying to do is see if, by having a weekly support group, the result will be that everybody takes the drug every single day,” Shull said.

    The efficacy of using anti-retroviral drug for prevention in high-risk populations was once controversial, but is now backed by a body of medical data and is more widely accepted. Still, UCLA health policy researcher Arleen Leibowitz says there remains the question of whether it’s the most effective use of scarce prevention dollars.

    “If you treat people who are HIV-positive and reduce their viral load so that it’s not detectable, the transmission of HIV is reduced by 96 percent,” Leibowitz said. “Whereas if you give Truvada to people who are uninfected, it reduces transmission by much less.”

    The drug’s sticker price is almost $1,400 a month. Those whose insurance doesn’t cover it, and who meet income requirements, can apply get it for free from drug maker Gilead.

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