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The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a plan to make a daily pill designed to reduce the risk of HIV infection broadly available to at-risk residents.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl proposed the roll-out of the pre-exposure prophylaxis or “PrEP,” which to date has been distributed through small pilot programs. Truvada, used to treat HIV since 2004, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for preventative use in 2012 and is the only “PrEP” pill approved to date.

“PrEP is a real gamechanger … and there are communities that are in dire need,” said Vallerie Wagner of AIDS Project Los Angeles.

A comprehensive HIV prevention strategy must include access for high- risk uninsured and under-insured residents, particularly young black and Latino gay men, black and Latina women and transgender persons, Kuehl told her colleagues.

But one of the largest and most politically savvy AIDS advocacy organizations argues that PrEP will encourage promiscuity and ultimately increase the spread of HIV.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein has called PrEP a “party drug,” and contends that at-risk users won’t adhere to a daily regimen of taking the pill. AHF sponsored a nationwide ad campaign against the use of Truvada as a prophylactic.

Kuehl’s proposal acknowledged that “research has shown that PrEP is most effective when it is part of a comprehensive HIV prevention program that includes routine medical care, risk reduction counseling, medication adherence support and care coordination.”

About 1,850 Los Angeles County residents become infected with HIV annually. Some advocates said Los Angeles had fallen behind other major cities in fighting the virus.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked that staffers working on a plan for broader distribution of the pill also look at the feasibility of providing PrEP to county jail inmates.

The vote was 4-0, with Supervisor Michael Antonovich abstaining.

— City News Service

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