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Preventing HIV with daily drug is costly but useful

Imagine you could take a pill every day that would significantly reduce your chances of becoming infected with the AIDS virus. It could be an attractive option, especially if you’re someone in a high-risk group.

These pills exist; in fact, a major study in 2010 found that the combination drug tenofovir-emtricitabine, known by the brand name Truvada, could reduce a person’s chances of HIV infection by 44 percent if taken daily. The problem is that the drug is expensive, about $10,000 a year, and it does come with side-effects.

So Stanford researchers decided to investigate just how cost-effective it would be to distribute these pills to a broad population – in this case gay men, who are considered a risk group for HIV. The researchers found that it would be prohibitively expensive, costing more than $495 billion over 20 years, if all gay men had access to the medication as a preventive.

However, if the drugs were targeted to just those at highest risk – i.e. men who have five or more sexual partners in a year – the costs are more realistic. As lead researcher Jessie Juusola said in our release, "Adopting it for men who have sex with men at high risk for HIV is an investment with good value that does not break the bank."

Providing the drug to men in this group would not only be reasonably affordable but also could significantly reduce the number of new infections, the researchers found. Their study appears in the latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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