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FDA approves first HIV prevention drug

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The battle to prevent HIV and AIDS may be forever changed due to something that happened today: the Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug that has shown an ability to reduce the risk of HIV infection, per the Associated Press:

The agency approved Gilead Sciences' pill Truvada as a preventive measure for people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV through sexual activity, such as those who have HIV-infected partners. Public health advocates say the approval could help slow the spread of HIV, which has held steady at about 50,000 new infections per year for the last 15 years. An estimated 1.2 million Americans have HIV, which develops into AIDS unless treated with antiviral drugs.

That said, we can't note this history without remembering the past, and recognizing how it'll factor in to the discussion about how privilege remains a key ingredient of any discussion about HIV and anti-viral medication. As Bloomberg BusinessWeek notes, the pill could be out of reach for a constituency which could certainly use it, and all because of money:

...rather than celebrating Truvada’s effectiveness, global health planners are now facing a difficult moment of soul searching over how to allocate limited resources.

“On the surface it’s something amazing, you can prevent HIV with a pill,” said Kevin Robert Frost, chief executive officer of amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. “But then you start to dig deeper and it gets really complicated. When I get to the question of who pays for this I am completely dumbfounded. In developing countries, most of them can’t afford to give pills to those who are HIV positive.”

Protests of Gilead Sciences' pricing of HIV drugs is nothing new, and I wouldn't be shocked to see more scenes like the one above from last fall greeting the company as they celebrate this historic news. I don't cite this to play Debbie Downer on news that may help save lives, and slow the growth of the epidemic. But it remains to be seen just how which is the priority of the drug's manufacturer: healing, or profits.

Given that manufacturer's name, I'm reminded of Jeremiah 8:22:

Is there no balm in Gilead?
     Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
     for the wound of my people?

The balm wasn't free in biblical times, either.