Drug prevents HIV infection

Elizabeth Castillo, Editor in Chief

Although a drug that prevents HIV was approved in 2012, several organizations in Bakersfield that serve high-risk communities believe that Bakersfield is too uninformed of Truvada, the brand-name pill.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada for preexposure prophylaxis. PrEP means that the pill can be taken as a preventative measure against HIV, but must be taken daily. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, men who have sex with other men are the population most highly affected by HIV. In Bakersfield, community experts believe that these populations are still highly unaware of Truvada as a preventative measure.

“Its release befuddles me,” said Whitney Weddell, the chairman of the board for Bakersfield LGBTQ. “There have been no giant PR campaigns, not even in the LGBT community. Gilead, the company that produces it, should have made this drug much more public right away.”

Another major subpopulation highly affected by HIV is young people. Individuals under 30 are especially susceptible to HIV and represent the highest infection rates in the U.S., according to the CDC. Robert Petersen, a PrEP advocate, came to Bakersfield College in March to give a presentation on Truvada and preventive measures against HIV. Petersen hopes more sexually active individuals could be made aware of Truvada.

“If more people knew about Truvada and knew it was available and effective, we could see a significant decrease in HIV infections,” he said.

According to an article in the Bakersfield Californian, Kern County ranked the 12th highest number of HIV cases out of 58 counties, in 2013. Although Weddell is an advocate for the LGBTQ community, she believes all sexually active individuals should take preventative measures against HIV.

“This drug prevents infection from HIV,” Weddell said. “Why is this not being shouted from rooftops and featured on TV and having doctors prescribe it for every sexually active patient? I don’t understand it.”

One problem with the drug is that some doctors in the medical field aren’t aware of the drug and may not prescribe it to patients. Petersen believes that some general practice doctors don’t know about Truvada. Although doctors specializing in infectious diseases are aware of the medication, doctors who have more access to the general public may not be as informed, according to Petersen.

Audrey Chavez, the founder and president of Bakersfield AIDS Project, is hopeful that her organization can better inform others on ways to prevent HIV infection. BAP will hold a community forum on Truvada and will produce articles on the medication in the future. The forum will include a presentation by Dr. Frank Lang, a local professional familiar with PrEP, representatives from the Kern County Health Department and patients who are using Truvada. Chavez said that she is aware of individuals in Kern County using Truvada regularly and they are healthy and HIV free.

“I believe every individual has the right to make informed decisions to protect their health and prevent the acquiring of HIV,” she said.

To attend the forum on HIV prevention, people can contact BAP at 661-872-9090 or text the name of the attendee and a contact phone number to 661-742-3611 with the word PrEP to receive details on the forum.