SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An openly gay San Francisco lawmaker went public on Wednesday with his daily use of a highly effective HIV-prevention drug and urged more at-risk city dwellers to do the same.
Scott Wiener, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, said in an op-ed published by the Huffington Post that he takes Truvada, in an effort to raise awareness about the drug’s benefits.
The pill, part of a therapy called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, can cut the likelihood of HIV infection for those at high risk by as much as 92 percent if taken daily, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But Wiener, who appears to be the first public official to publicly attest to taking the drug, said many people avoid using it because of the stigma surrounding the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
“We still see enormous stigma, shame, and judgment around HIV, and around sexuality in general. That is precisely why I decided to be public about my choice: to contribute to a larger dialogue about our community’s health,” Wiener wrote in his article titled “Coming Out of the PrEP Closet.”
As of the end of June, 15,971 San Franciscans were living with HIV, with 85 percent of new diagnoses occurring among gay, bisexual and transgender populations, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Yet many such men who are good candidates for the drug do not believe their risk of being infected is high enough to warrant its use, according to a recent study conducted in New York.
The drug, which can cost as much as $14,000 a year, is available to those insured by Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program for the poor, as well as many private providers, the department said.
People without insurance can access the drug through certain health department programs or apply for financial assistance through the drug’s manufacturer, Gilead Sciences Inc, the department said.
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday to investigate the city’s efforts to provide the treatment more widely and discuss whether the drug could be made available to all city residents for free, regardless of income.
In May, the CDC issued new recommendations urging healthcare workers to consider offering Truvada to healthy individuals who are at substantial risk for HIV infection.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Robert Birsel