via a&u, by Jeannie Gibbs

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the provision of antiretrovirals (ARVs) to HIV-negative people in order to prevent HIV infection. In light of recently released data, a heated debate is raging in the HIV community on how and if PrEP should be implemented. A vast array of ethical, financial, and medical concerns have been expressed, in fact too many to address in one article. However, most agree that PrEP (with more research), although not a single solution to preventing the continued spread of HIV, should be added to the arsenal of HIV prevention strategies where it is needed most.
Many contend that PrEP cannot be justified at the present time in all populations while millions already living with HIV are in desperate need of treatment. At the same time, the need for additional effective prevention methods, particularly among serodiscordant couples, men who have sex with men who practice unsafe sex, and disenfranchised women is immense, leading most to agree that PrEP should be explored for these groups.

Despite the concerns regarding PrEP, many in the HIV community view the recent PrEP data as a dramatic step and a valuable tool in reducing HIV transmission. “We’re excited about PrEP,” states Frank Oldham, president and CEO, National Association of People with AIDS. “Not because it will end HIV in America. It won’t and can’t. The epidemic is caused as much by poverty, homophobia, and an unfair healthcare system as it is by a virus, and no prevention tool, however promising, is going to end it until we do something about those problems. But PrEP has real promise for people for whom other prevention tools aren’t working—like sex workers, homeless youths, and women who aren’t in a position to negotiate safer sex with their partners. PrEP isn’t for everyone. We need to know more about its safety for women and adolescents. We need safeguards to make sure it isn’t given to people who already have HIV. But used wisely PrEP will save lives.”

Michael Ruppal, executive director of The AIDS Institute, echoes NAPWA’s concerns for caution and more data as well as their enthusiasm for PrEP’s potential. “The study data about PrEP offers some of the most exciting hope for stopping the transmission of HIV. With that comes a responsibility to be diligent to do more to answer long-term questions such as drug safety, efficacy, cost, access and ensuring additional studies. We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and others about the truths surrounding PrEP and not let myths and fear drive our actions.”

Perhaps the greatest concern voiced by those both supportive and critical of PrEP is the high cost of this prevention modality. Close monitoring is essential for those on PrEP, adding to the cost of its use. Frequent HIV testing is necessary to prevent drug resistance from occurring from the use of suboptimal therapy if a person unknowingly seroconverts. Routine monitoring for ARV-related toxicities and adverse events, particularly kidney damage, loss of bone density, and changes in fat metabolism, which have been observed in clinical trials, must be conducted, as well as additional research to measure the long-term effects of ARVs on HIV-negative individuals.

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[If an item is not written by an IRMA member, it should not be construed that IRMA has taken a position on the article’s content, whether in support or in opposition.]