Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) involves putting HIV negative people on antiretroviral drugs (ARV) with the aim of protecting them from HIV infection. This blog looks at some of the pros and cons of PrEP.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Welcome to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP

Preventing a disease may seem preferable to waiting until someone becomes infected and then treating them. But HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a bit different. In countries with high HIV prevalence, such as Swaziland, Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and a number of others, so many people are at risk of being infected, the cost of providing medication for them all would be prohibitive. After all, PrEP is not a once off inoculation; it is something you need to take for as long as you are sexually active.

So why write a blog about that? Well, I have searched the web a good deal for information about PrEP and it is overwhelmingly positive and overwhelmingly shaped by the very people who stand to gain from promoting it, namely the pharmaceutical industries, Big Pharma. I would expect to find at least some articles that criticize or question or even try to analyze PrEP. But I only came across one. So I'll be on the lookout for others.

HIV is a virus spread by contaminated bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid and others. It is relatively difficult to spread through sexual contact, especially penile-vaginal contact, though anal sex is especially dangerous. But some of the most common routes of infection could be non-sexual. In which case, it would be a waste of effort and money to target people on the basis of their assumed sexual behavior with PrEP. Unless you wanted to waste money; unless it isn't your money; unless it is development money.

If you want to hear cheers for PrEP, just have a look at the Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), a pharmaceutical poodle that yaps a lot but, ultimately, protects nothing but Big Pharma profits. It claims not to be supported by Big Pharma, but they do get money and support from institutions that cheer for little else: UNAIDS, CDC and IAVI. And then there's the Bill Gates Foundation, which makes a lot of money from Big Pharma and other, equally admirable, multinational interests.

I have written about PrEP elsewhere, especially on my HIV in Kenya blog (just search for 'PrEP' in the search box) and briefly in the blog, Kwa Sababu, now sadly defunct. But I think the field of PrEP is in serious need of analysis and discussion. I hope others feel the same way.


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