A new HIV-prevention drug will either encourage unsafe sex or make sex safer, depending on whom you ask. Truvada, an HIV treatment drug that can also prevent new infections, is causing divisions among community health advocates, the gay community, and AIDS activists, who can't agree on whether it should be used as a preventative tool. The problem? Truvada works to prevent HIV being transmitted during unprotected sex, which many aren't keen to encourage.
Doctors are excited about the drug, and are pushing it as a promising way to prevent some of the 50,000 new HIV infections reported each year in America. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who directs the HIV program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, is clearly pro-Truvada:
For folks who are having a significant amount of unprotected sex, it's a slam dunk - not only giving them protective medicine, but engaging them in testing, a whole package of regular health care. There's some interesting social pushback. I've spoken to some of my patients who'd totally be candidates but are hesitant to do it. They don't want to be labeled as people on the drug because there's a social stigma.
Truvada's been around for a decade as part of daily treatment for those infected with HIV, but in 2012 the FDA approved it for use as a preventative drug. Cue contention. The president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein, slammed the drug in an interview with the AP:
If something comes along that's better than condoms, I'm all for it, but Truvada is not that. Let's be honest: It's a party drug.
Weinstein, pictured above, has been a vocal advocate of condom use as the only effective way to prevent the transmission of HIV.
Decades of exclusively promoting condom prevention have contributed to this Truvada standoff, The New York Times reported in an article on the controversy late last year. That article cited Dr. Kenneth H. Mayer, a Harvard professor and director of community center with many gay and lesbian patients, who explained the community's apparent reticence to welcome Truvada.
We’ve had several decades of the recommendation to use condoms. Now we’re saying, "Here’s a pill that might protect you if you don’t use condoms." So it’s flying in the face of community norms.
Maybe that explains why the term "Truvada whore" has become shorthand for gay men using the drug for protection from HIV during unsafe sex, though some — including a Twitter user identifying as an "ethical slut" — have reclaimed that term to help publicize Truvada's effectiveness.
Like birth control, the drug needs to be taken every day to work properly. Surprisingly, many of the drug's early adopters have been women, including one looking to become pregnant by her HIV-infected partner, according to the Times.