SF to spend $300K improving access to anti-HIV drug 

click to enlarge Truvada is the only brand-name drug for PrEP, a key in battling HIV prevention. - JEFF CHIU/2012 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Jeff Chiu/2012 AP file photo
  • Truvada is the only brand-name drug for PrEP, a key in battling HIV prevention.

The Board of Supervisors approved spending $300,000 Tuesday to fund so-called navigators to help residents gain access to an HIV-prevention drug.

While San Francisco's efforts to combat HIV/AIDS have significantly reduced new infections in recent years and helped those infected carry on with productive lives, there are still hundreds of new infections reported per year.

The hope is that by having more residents take the new drug PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxisthe -- brand-name drug Truvada is currently the only one on the market -- The City will take a step toward its goal of zero infections, officials say.

"We are taking a bold step in making PrEP available to all in San Francisco," said Supervisor David Campos, who introduced the proposal.

The approved funding will be used to hire people in nonprofits to help residents learn about the drug, which can reduce users' chances of being infected, and to help them use their existing benefits like Medi-Cal to cover the drug expenses. Campos said that it's estimated the cost of treating someone who is infected by HIV can be as high as $500,000 during the person's lifetime. The cost of the daily pill can run up to $1,800 a month without insurance.

Also Tuesday, Supervisor Scott Wiener, who recently announced he was using PrEP, requested a hearing Tuesday on the broader plan to end HIV infections.

"This is still an epidemic. People are still becoming positive. People still are struggling to access care. And people are still dying," Wiener said, adding that there are 50,000 new infections throughout the nation annually and 2 million worldwide. "We have to encourage and educate people to get tested more frequently, every three months. We need people to know right away if they are positive. We need to connect people quickly to anti-retroviral drugs so that they can suppress their viral loads."

There were 15,901 persons living with HIV in The City as of last year, which includes 359 new infections during 2013. Last year, 182 people died of AIDS.

"San Francisco has been a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS since the beginning, with our coalitions, nonprofits, advocacy groups, and government agencies united together against this disease," Public Health Director Barbara Garcia said in a statement. "We now have the opportunity to take that leadership to the next level by becoming the first city to get to zero. Together, our partnerships across the city are poised to seize the moment and continue to make history."

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