KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

New Drug Research, Incidence Rates And Pope’s Comments Brighten AIDS Outlook

The Associated Press: "In the nearly 30 years the AIDS epidemic has raged, there has never been a more hopeful day than this. Three striking developments took place Tuesday: U.N. officials said new HIV cases are dropping dramatically worldwide. A study showed that a daily pill already on pharmacy shelves could help prevent new infections in gay men. And the pope opened the way for the use of condoms to prevent AIDS" (Marchione, 11/23).

The Boston Globe: "The same drugs that seemingly have transformed the HIV infection from a death sentence to a chronic disease can also help protect gay men from being infected with the virus in the first place. ... A study conducted in Boston and 10 other sites worldwide found that among men at high risk for contracting the AIDS-causing virus, those randomly assigned to take a daily antiretroviral pill were 44 percent less likely to become infected than those receiving a dummy pill. The infection risk was even more dramatically reduced among men who faithfully took the pills."  Experts also now say the discovery offers them "a powerful new tool" in the form of a drug that is already widely available (Cooney, 11/24).

MSNBC: This finding reignites questions and discussions about how best to use resources in the battle against HIV/AIDS. "The once-a-day pill that can cut HIV infection by as much as 70 percent among gay men who take it faithfully, according to a U.S. government study, is a major public health accomplishment that could save untold number of lives." But "how often should someone be given a pill that can be expensive? There is enormous range in prices. In the United States the retail price is about $1,000 a month. In third world countries, there are generic versions available for about $15 a month.  ...  Even in the U.S. not everyone has easy access to the drugs because of financial restraints. Is the best use of resources of treatment drugs to use them for prevention?" (Bazell, 11/23).

The New York Times: "AIDS experts and the researchers issued several caveats about the study's limitations, emphasizing that it looked only at gay men and [the medicine] Truvada. More studies, now under way, are needed to see whether the results can be duplicated, whether other antiretroviral drugs will work and whether they will protect heterosexual men and women, prostitutes and drug users who share needles" (McNeil, 11/23)

NPR Shots Blog: These findings are just part of the message that the AIDS/HIV outlook is not all gloom and doom. "Nearly 20 percent fewer people are dying of AIDS than in 2004, largely because of new treatments. Just yesterday, we reported on a promising new daily regimen to prevent HIV transmission." But there is still reason for concern, notably that "these gains are at risk in a world struggling with economic stagnation. That has Michel Sibidé, the head of UNAIDS, deeply worried." NPR features an edited transcript of a conversation with him (Knox, 11/24). 

Catholic News Agency: Meanwhile, the buzz continues on Pope Benedict's comments on condom use, from his new book. "The Vatican's own newspaper had broken the official embargo on the book over the weekend, releasing fragments of the Pope's remarks about using condoms to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. The excerpts caused a storm of media controversy - with many suggesting that the Pope had changed the Church's teaching forbidding the use of artificial means of birth control." But a veteran Vatican correspondent said "the Pope was offering a realistic approach to a very difficult moral and public health issue" (11/23).

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