Preventing HIV/AIDS: A new Therapeutic Frontier

The challenge has confronted us for more than twenty years.  It began with the question of “what is this?”  Once we knew—it was HIV/AIDS—we asked: “How do we treat it?”  And slowly, over time, medicines have evolved so that those who have it and have access to the therapeutics that treat it can, for the most part, live with it.  The quest then turned toward the question of “how do we cure it and/or prevent it?”

According to the FDA website, the FDA approved the use of once-daily Truvada (emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate; Gilead Sciences) to reduce the risk of  HIV infection in seronegative individuals who are at high risk for transmission. Truvada is the first antiretroviral agent to receive an indication for use in uninfected individuals for preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in combination with safe sex practices.

Prevention?  Partial prevention?  Prevention boost?  Finally, there is some path forward.  But yet another debate has begun..  On the one hand, Truvada is the first therapeutic that reduces the risk of acquiring the disease for people in high risk categories—t hat is groundbreaking.  On the other hand, 20 years of education around safe sex practices in the HIV/AIDS era have significantly reduced the spread of the disease.  Detractors fear that these two realities cannot co-exist, and the idea of a “magic pill” could win the day in the minds of those who have the most to lose.

To be effective and to herald a breakthrough and remain staunchly behind our first line of defense in the fight against this deadly disease the conversation must be thoughtful, heartfelt and sensitive.  As communication professionals, we will play a special role here.  We have the distinct opportunity to advocate for both sides, educating people on all forms of prevention in the fight against AIDS:  therapeutic and behavioral.


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