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I Don’t Want to Say “I Told You So” But, “I Told You So”
By Tony Wafford, Contributing Columnist
Published January 21, 2016

Tony Wafford

I remember back in 2012 when many in the HIV world were celebrating this new wonder drug called Truvada (PrEP). This new drug was going to be a major tool (their words not mine) in our tool box to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. This magic pill was going to help those at highest risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. Call me crazy, but I believe anyone having unprotected sex, not knowing their partner’s HIV/STI status is at high risk. But, let’s not start comparing pain we all know that there are some whose behaviors put them at greater risk.

Here’s the interesting thing about Truvada, it really wasn’t a new drug. Many HIV positive people have been using Truvada to treat their HIV for a number of years. The drug has been a God sent for many. It does a great job of lowering your viral load (which only means reducing the amount of the HIV virus in your blood) while at the same time making it more difficult to transmit HIV/AIDS. This is why it’s so very important for those who test positive for HIV to get into early treatment and care and take their medication; HIV, like any other health issue, be it high-blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, taking your medication is key. If you get into early treatment and care and take your medication, odds are you’ll be cool. And it’s your responsibility to yourself, your loved ones and your community to do so.

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And while we’re on the subject of responsibility, we’ve got to talk about how we sell this wonder drug to the vulnerable. As I say Truvada has been a God sent to many HIV positive people but we’ve got to be very careful how we sell it to the community. We cannot give the impression that Truvada or any other drug advancement is in anyway a shortcut to responsible behavior. What many advocates of Truvada do not say as loud and as clear as they go all over this country selling Truvada like ‘El Chapo’ sold cocaine, is how to use it properly. Too often they leave out the most important component in this case the most important component is the use of condoms.

In 2005 Truvada was doing such a great job that someone came up with the bright idea to do clinical trials using Truvada in HIV NEGATIVE people. The target audience was people who inject drugs, HIV serodiscordant couples, heterosexual men and women, women at higher risk, and men and transgender women who have sex with men.

The trial showed that PrEP could help protect HIV negative people at high-risk from acquiring HIV if they took the drug daily before and after exposure but the key was also the use of condoms. I can hear many of you saying, just like I did, “So was it the pill or the condom, and if I got to use a condom, why do I need the pill? Don’t get me wrong I totally I understand added protection and we all know that sometimes we have hiccups, but my concern is our becoming irresponsible in our actions because as humans, we all look for shortcuts.

Well, here’s my I told you so. I argued years ago that we need to teach that PrEP is only as good as the condom you are using. To many people, they saw PrEP as a magic pill and forgot the importance of condoms and began having sex without condoms or conscience. As I said before and I’m saying it now; pills are no substitute for principles and medication will never replace morality. Since PrEP’s introduction to the larger society, rates of syphilis have increased at an alarming rate.

So let’s tell the whole story, condoms are key in reducing both HIV and STIs. A value pack of Trojans cost $15.27 per box and a year’s supply will run you approximately $241.25. While a year’s supply of PrEP will set you back approximately $1,407.58 plus the $241.25 for the condoms; remember you still need to use a condom. So, you tell me, $1,648.83 plus the possible side-effects verse $241.25 with no side-effects, unless you are allergic to latex, I would choose condoms every time! This is the conversation most Pro-PrEP people don’t always share with its target audience.

So I’m asking you to join in with me in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Doing It campaign. Join I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center in this new national HIV testing and prevention campaign designed to motivate everyone to get tested for HIV and know their status. Let’s make HIV testing a regular part of our health routine to keep ourselves and our community healthy! There are no shortcuts, I’m Doing It, how about you?

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Categories: Op-Ed | Opinion
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