San Francisco May Be The First City To Give Out Free HIV-Prevention Pills

09/19/2014 10:49am ET
SAN ANSELMO, CA - NOVEMBER 23: A bottle of antiretroviral drug Truvada is displayed at Jack's Pharmacy on November 23, 2010 in San Anselmo, California. A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that men who took the daily antiretroviral pill Truvada significantly reduced their risk of contracting HIV. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The day after San Francisco supervisor Scott Wiener came “out of the PrEP closet” on The Huffington Post as a user of the revolutionary HIV-prevention drug, activists gathered outside of San Francisco City Hall to rally in support of an initiative to make it more available for everyone in the city, regardless of income.

PrEP, a pre-exposure prophylaxis also known as Truvada, is a once-a-day pill that studies have found to be roughly as effective as condoms at reducing the risk of contracting HIV. But with costs as high as $8,000 to $14,000 a year, the drug is out of many people’s price range, even with insurance.

Supervisor David Campos announced plans to make PrEP cheap or free for residents in statements on his Facebook.

“This coming Tuesday, I will introduce a measure to allocate funds for navigators to educate patients about PrEP, and provide subsidies to San Franciscans who cannot afford the life saving medication,” he said Thursday, a day after suggesting San Francisco can set a national example: “By making PrEP available to all regardless of income, we could set the tone for the rest of the country in how to effectively eradicate a disease that claimed the lives of so many of our loved ones.”

At the rally on Thursday, Wiener emphasized how prevalent HIV remains, pointing to statistics that show there are 400 new HIV infections a year in San Francisco, 50,000 nationwide and more than 2 million around the world.

“I'm sick of meeting people 18, 19, 20, 21 years old who are [HIV] positive. We know that this is not necessary,” he said. “I think a lot of times, especially in the mainstream, there’s this view that somehow HIV is over, that the epidemic is somehow resolved, that everything is okay, and we know that that’s not true."

“Ending this epidemic can’t just be limited to people who happen to have good insurance,” Wiener continued. “We have to expand access. We have to make sure that people who either don’t have insurance or have insurance with really high deductibles or high copays have access.”

While criticisms that PrEP may encourage risky sexual behavior have divided the gay community, Wiener said studies show only one in six gay men use a condom 100 percent of the time.

Campos will present his measure at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

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