Bloomberg Law
March 3, 2020, 7:31 PM

HIV Drug Giveaway Effort Gets Fresh Boost From Pharmacies

Shira Stein
Shira Stein

A franchise of over 3,300 independent pharmacies will dispense the HIV prevention drug donated by Gilead Sciences Inc. at no cost to the federal government, the Health and Human Services Department said Tuesday.

The pharmacies which are part of Health Mart, a subsidiary of McKesson Corp., are joining CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., and Rite Aid Corp. in their contribution, bringing the total participation to one-third of the nation’s pharmacies. Efforts to get more patients on the HIV prevention drug is a core part of President Donald Trump’s pledge to end the spread of HIV.

The administration is providing the HIV prevention drug Truvada to people without prescription drug insurance coverage at no cost. Its goal is to get 50% of people at risk for HIV on the preventive therapy by 2025.

Gilead donated enough of the drug Truvada to cover 200,000 people for a maximum of 11 years.

Only two drugs, Truvada and Descovy, have been approved in the U.S. for HIV prevention, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Both are made by Gilead. Truvada costs about $20,000 per patient per year, and the drugmaker often receives criticism for its high cost.

In addition to dispensing Truvada at no cost to the government, the pharmacies will provide patient counseling and take steps to help patients better adhere to their drug regimen. By the end of March, patients will be able to go to more than 24,500 participating pharmacies in the U.S. to get Truvada or get it through mail order.

Patients seeking the free medication will need to test negative for HIV, have no prescription drug insurance coverage, and have a prescription for the drug. The donations don’t include costs for lab tests and clinic visits necessary to obtain the prescriptions.

The administration is targeting communities that could benefit most from PrEP—black and Latino gay and bisexual men, transgender people, and black women.

“Health Mart independent pharmacies will play an important role in further expanding patient access to free PrEP medications in these traditionally underserved areas,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said in a statement.

Taking PrEP consistently reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. There are about 40,000 new cases of HIV each year, according to the CDC.

The HHS believes this program will supply all those who are in need of PrEP and uninsured, Giroir previously told reporters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at; Brent Bierman at