HIV/AIDS may not be in the news on a daily basis, which makes it seem like the epidemic that killed over an estimated 700,000 people of HIV-related illnesses in the United States since 1981 is no longer an issue. As new generations admere, the fight continues to educate and treat those who need it. The introduction of a new blue pill has changed the game for many who are at high risk of contracting HIV. Truvada has been approved by the FDA for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP. When taken daily, PrEP is 99% effective at preventing HIV infection. Organizations like MPower and HIV Testing Program Manager, Christopher Garcia are educating the community of the importance of the drug. “PrEP is important to our community because it prevents someone from getting HIV,” shared Garcia. “PrEP has been out since 2012 and there have only been 6 cases out of millions of people getting HIV. PrEP is another Barrier and prevention that a person can use along with any other prevention they currently are using.” PrEP contains two medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine) that are used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV. When someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection. The development of this drug was a game changer for those at risk, but there are partnerships who are making PrEP more effective.
Companies like UrSure and Healthvana are working to assist with PrEP to create a streamlined system to make it easier for a patient to take part in the process. UrSure was founded in 2013 by doctors, Helen Koenig and Giffin Daughtridge, who started an HIV prevention clinic at Philadelphia FIGHT. They provided Truvada to young, gay men of color, who were at high risk of HIV infection. As shared on their website, the clinic grew to serve over 200 individuals, but within the first two years, several patients became HIV positive, despite picking up their PrEP routinely. Due to the drug’s effectiveness, Helen and Giffin knew that the issue must have been adherence, which was a widely reported problem with medications taken daily like PrEP. The duo identified two problems. First, as providers, they were unable to diagnose non-adherence. Self-reported adherence was very high, but actual adherence was much lower. Second, their patients were not motivated to take the drug. Many said they didn’t feel different when taking the drug. As a result, they questioned whether it was protecting them. Without that peace of mind, they would stop taking it over time.
To solve these two issues, Helen and Giffin developed a lab-based urine test that could measure levels of one of the drugs in Truvada in their patient’s urine. This test allowed them to measure adherence to PrEP, and they found that both providers and patients liked receiving the data. UrSure’s original mission endures as they focus on making noninvasive, rapid tests that measure and improve adherence to medications for patients and providers worldwide.
Healthvana’s goal is to make communication between the patient and the clinic smoother during treatment. Healthvana’s digital tools make it easier for clinics to identify, educate, and keep patients on PrEP. Healthvana has thousands of at-risk and HIV patients as subscribers already and clinics that are seeing positive results because of Healthvana’s work. CEO Ramin Bastani shared on the Healthvana website, “I care about empowering patients to make better decisions with timely and actionable information. I’m committed to amplifying the important work that healthcare professionals do.”
The ability to start on PrEP and utilize the services of Healthvana and UrSure is as easy as working with organizations like MPower or discussing it with your Primary Care Physician. P&E - Teresa Robinson
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