Will the HIV-Prevention Pill Protect Teens or Encourage Risky Behavior?

(Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

(Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

By Rafael Johns, Youth Radio via NPR

Leon Richardson is 18 years old and tall, charismatic and thoughtful about his sexual health.

He understands that as a young, gay black man, he is in the demographic with the highest rate of HIV infections in the country. But when Richardson learned that he could be part of an HIV prevention pill research study for young people, he was skeptical.

“I was scared. I had to really think about it, ‘What is this drug going to do to me?’ ” he says.

The regimen, called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 85 percent when a pill called Truvada is taken daily. In a first, the Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada for prevention of the infection in 2012. Truvada had been used previously to treat HIV infection. Continue reading

As Covered California Enrollment Winds Down, a Push for HIV Prevention

By Heather Boerner

You’ve got just three days left to choose a new health plan under Covered California.

Choose carefully — especially if you want to take the only pill approved by the Food and Drug Administration to block HIV.

“Some plans may look appealing because their premiums are low,” Dr. Hyman Scott, who specializes in HIV at San Francisco General Hospital, said he tells patients interested in the drug, Truvada. “But the copays and deductibles, especially for what are often considered specialty drugs, can be really high.”

Enrollment in Covered California closes Sunday. Local doctors, social workers and navigators are helping the people most at risk for HIV figure out how — and if — they can afford the drug, which costs $13,000 a year, according to the drug’s maker, Gilead Sciences. Continue reading

FDA Proposes Lifting Lifetime Ban on Gay Blood Donors

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a policy change that would end a 31-year ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The ban was put in place at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic when little was understood about the disease. Under the proposed change, gay men who have not had sexual contact in a year would be allowed to donate blood.

In a statement, the FDA said that “it will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact.” Officials say the change is motivated by research. Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom already have similar policies in place.

The FDA has been considering the move for some time. Earlier this month, Ryan James Yezak with the National Gay Blood Drive told KQED that he thought that any ban was discriminatory, but said that the move toward one year, instead of a lifetime ban, was a step in the right direction. Continue reading

FDA Considers Lifting Ban on Gay Men Donating Blood

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Mina Kim and Peter Shuler

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will consider Tuesday lifting a 31-year-old ban on blood donations from gay men.

Originally fueled by fear and little understanding of AIDS, federal regulators in 1983 banned donations from men who have sex with men. Now a federal health advisory committee recommends that the FDA ease that ban, saying that men who have not had sex with another man for a year may donate blood.

Hank Greely is a professor of law and medicine at Stanford and directs the Center for Law and the Biosciences. He reminded listeners of how little we knew about AIDS when the ban was first put in place. “No one really knew what caused AIDS” at that time, he said. “They did know people were getting the disease from transfusions, and that gay men were one of the groups that had the highest incidence of the disease.” Continue reading

S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading

How The Stigma of HIV Can Linger and Keep People from Care


Lenworth Poyser (left) works with a colleague at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Poyser is a health educator for a project focused on reaching young, gay men of color who are HIV-positive. (Susan Valot/KQED)

Editor’s Note: Lack of health insurance isn’t the only barrier to getting medical care. The stigma and fear around HIV can keep people from seeking help. As part of our ongoing health series Vital Signs, we hear from Lenworth Poyser. He was homeless and living with HIV. Now, Poyser helps young HIV-positive men support each other through a group at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. 

By Lenworth Poyser

When I first came out, when I was still in Texas, I left my mother’s house. At the time I was 18. What she was basically saying is: You can be in this house, just don’t be gay in this house. And I couldn’t do it. So, I threw my clothes into a trash bag and got out.

My sister had invited me to move out to L.A., move out to L.A. And, when HIV hit, I was like, “Oh, life is too short.” So, I decided to just do it. Continue reading

Tough Road to Starting a Family for HIV-Positive Man

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Andrew Jolivette wants to start a family but because he is HIV-positive, he is having a hard time finding a place that will help him donate sperm to his friend. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s note: Andrew Jolivette was diagnosed with AIDS eleven years ago. Back then, he didn’t think he could ever have a family, since it was illegal for HIV-positive men to donate sperm. California reversed that law in 2007. Now, Jolivette hopes to start a family with a friend. As part of our ongoing series of first-person health profiles called “What’s Your Story?” Jolivette tells us how some medical facilities still can’t handle this kind of situation.

By Andrew Jolivette

You know, my mother passed away about a year ago and I think that that also, in all honesty, has had some impact on me saying: Well gosh, she was such a great mom and all these things she taught me, I want to be able to share that with someone, too.

Quite frankly, because [my viral load is] undetectable and there are measures they can take like sperm washing and the potential mother, can take anti-retrovirals beforehand to ensure that she nor the child will be infected, then why not? Continue reading

Study Finds Surprising Outcomes for Undocumented HIV Patients

By Mina Kim



While there hasn’t been much research into how well undocumented Hispanic immigrants do if they are infected with HIV,  a small study from researchers at Baylor adds to what’s known — and found some surprising results.

In the retrospective study researchers reviewed the cases of 1,620 HIV-positive adults at a clinic in Houston. Researchers looked at patients’ health one year after they started HIV treatment and compared between groups — African American, white, Hispanic — with undocumented Hispanics reviewed in a separate category.

“What we found was, though they entered care with more advanced HIV,” said lead researcher Thomas Giordano in reference to the undocumented Hispanics, “actually when we looked at their outcomes they did as well, if not better, than the other groups in the study.”

Giordano says the study did not look specifically at why this might be happening, but did recount what is known about undocumented immigrants and overall health status. From the study: Continue reading

What Are the Costs of HIV Treatment?

by Ian Hill, KQED News

Workers hang a red ribbon on the White House before World AIDS Day, 2011. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Workers hang a red ribbon on the White House before World AIDS Day, 2011. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Living with HIV is not cheap. Earlier this year NPR reported that monthly HIV treatments can cost between $2,000-$5,000 and that the lifetime cost of treatment is estimated at more than a half-million dollars. While public assistance programs can help cover some treatments, some people still find it a challenge to pay for the drugs they need to survive.

In advance of World AIDS Day this Saturday, KQED wants to know how the cost of treatments has affected people living with HIV. If you’re HIV positive, you can help inform our reporting by filling out the form below. The information you provide may be used in a future blog post or in our reporting on radio, unless otherwise noted. Continue reading