US Makes HIV-Prevention Drug Free to Uninsured

This 2011 electron microscope image from the Centers for Disease Control shows HIV virions. (Maureen Metcalfe, Tom Hodge/Centers for Disease Control via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Trump administration announced Tuesday a plan that offers free access to PrEP, the daily pill regimen that prevents HIV infection among users who have not yet contracted the disease.

Short for pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP has largely failed to gain traction in at-risk communities because it is available only by prescription at a hefty price tag of up to $2,000 a month.

Annually, the U.S. sees around 38,000 new HIV infections. With free access to prep, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement Tuesday that this number could shrink 75% by the year 2025 and 90% by the year 2030.

“Ready, Set, PrEP is a historic expansion of access to HIV prevention medication and a major step forward in President Trump’s plan to end the HIV epidemic in America,” Azar said.

Gilead Sciences Inc., which is the only company with FDA approval to sell PrEP in the United States, markets the medication under two names: Truvada and Descovy.

Azar’s announcement comes seven months after the company announced it would gift the CDC enough medication to treat up to 200,000 people per year for 10 years.

The secretary denied that the donation was spurred by a patent-infringement lawsuit brought by HHS, alleging that the PrEP formulation relied, at least in part, on  taxpayer-funded research.

The Centers for Disease Control estimated in 2018 that 1.1 million Americans faced a substantial risk of getting HIV but only 90,000 had received PrEP prescriptions, and that minorities were at a substantially higher risk.

While two-thirds of people who could potentially benefit from PrEP were black or Latino, the CDC report found, people from those populations held the smallest percentage of prescriptions.

To qualify for Ready, Set, PrEP, individuals must be HIV-free, have a valid prescription for PrEP and lack prescription drug coverage. More information is available at GetYourPrEP.com.

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