In a huge scientific breakthrough, a new once-a-day pill to treat HIV infection was approved by the FDA on Monday. The pill combines four other HIV medicines –– Elvitegravir, Cobcistat, Emtricitabine, and Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate –– and will be prescribed to people who are HIV positive yet have never been treated for the disease. The once-a-day pill Stribild is distributed by Gilead Sciences, and in studies run by the company, 88-90% of patients taking the medicine had undetectable levels of HIV in their blood after 48 weeks. This comes in addition to the FDA approved over-the-counter HIV home test and another drug Truvada, which can be used by healthy people who have a high risk of contracting the disease.
These new medicines are quite a victory for the medical field. However, there is still no “cure” for HIV/AIDS, which means the battle against the widespread disease is far from over. Over 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the U.S., a significant number in our population, but only a small percentage of the 34 million people worldwide affected by the disease. The areas with the highest concentration of people living with HIV reside in low-and-middle income countries where access to antiretroviral therapy treatment only reaches anywhere from 5 – 65% of those infected.
As Americans, we are lucky to live in a country where medical advances like these are happening; giving us better access to the medicine we need to combat this disease. Yet, we represent a minority in the HIV/AIDS-infected population, and the vast majority of people with the disease are not as fortunate. Although these pills are progressive, the current distribution system needs to be overhauled to help ensure that more have access to these lifesaving drugs.
The FDA’s approval of Stribild, Truvada, and the HIV at-home test are a testament to the medical world’s commitment to finding a way to rid the world of the disease in the future. Until that day comes, what we can do is work to make sure that everyone has access to the treatments that already exist. Distribution is key.