A Trump administration program to get 200,000 uninsured patients access to the HIV prevention drug Truvada only has 891 participants, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said Monday at a virtual meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
Giroir said officials have been “doing double duty” with the response to Covid-19 and HIV prevention efforts, but “it’s time that we double down” on the initiative to end HIV.
The program is a cornerstone of the Trump administration’s initiative to reduce HIV infections in the nation, as Truvada is one of the only two medications approved in the U.S. as a preventative. There were about 38,000 new cases of HIV in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gilead Sciences Inc. donated enough of its drug Truvada to cover 200,000 people for a maximum of 11 years to aid in the Trump administration’s goal to get 50% of people at risk for HIV on the preventative therapy by 2025. The program began in December.
“Some of the increased in-person recruitment, education and awareness efforts for the Ready, Set, PrEP (RSP) campaign have slowed” during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mia Heck, spokeswoman for the assistant secretary for health, said in a statement.
“HHS is evaluating how to continue raising awareness through virtual events and especially around upcoming HIV awareness days including National HIV Testing Day June 27,” Heck said. She added the Department of Health and Human Services is “deeply committed” to the program.
“It’s going to take time” to get more participation, and the uninsured—the people for whom the program is intended—are the hardest to reach, Carl Schmid, co-chair of the council, said in an interview.
“It’s not just the cost of the drug” that makes it difficult to get people to take PrEP, Schmid said. Truvada costs about $20,000 per patient per year, and Gilead often receives criticism for its high cost.
The lab tests that are required to get and stay on PrEP aren’t free under the program, and that could be one reason why participation is so low, Schmid said.
Community health centers received funding in March to provide the required tests for PrEP, but they need more, Schmid said.
The CDC is coming out with revised PrEP guidance, Schmid said, and it may look at how frequently people on PrEP need to be tested for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
The HHS has also put out ads on social media and in the LGBT press, but there needs to be increased outreach and education, Schmid said.
CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., Rite Aid Corp., Albertsons Companies Inc, and 3,300 independent pharmacies donated their dispensing services for the drug. Giroir announced Albertsons’ participation at the HIV council meeting Monday.
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.
Taking PrEP consistently reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%, the CDC said.