A San Francisco lawmaker is speaking publicly about the fact that he takes a daily pill to help prevent HIV, saying he hopes his disclosure will help lessen the stigma around the gay men who use the medication. Scott Wiener, who’s the supervisor for District 8 in the city, appears to be the first public official to confirm he takes the drug.
The pill, known as Truvada, is emerging as a promising tactic in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Truvada was approved by the FDA two years ago after it was proven to be more than 90 percent effective at preventing HIV infections among people who take it every day. Using the medication as a preventative measure to reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission is officially known as “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or PrEP. According to the CDC, there are “no significant safety concerns” with taking PrEP, although some participants in clinical trials reported that they experienced mild side effects like a loss of appetite that resolved within a month.
Both U.S. health officials and the World Heath Organization have endorsed the pill; however, social norms have been slow to change. Most doctors aren’t recommending Truvada to their patients, and some prominent members of the LGBT community have denounced the pill as a “party drug” that will lead men to have sex without condoms.
Wiener, who is openly gay, hopes he can help changing some of those perceptions about Truvada. In an op-ed entitled “Coming Out of the PrEP Closet,” the lawmaker writes that he wants to help remove some of the “enormous stigma, shame, and judgment around HIV, and around sexuality in general.” He also notes that recent research has proven that giving gay men access to Truvada doesn’t actually spur them to have riskier sex, comparing that myth to “some of the phony arguments used to attack the HPV vaccine by suggesting that getting vaccinated will lead young girls down a path to promiscuity.”
“As an elected official, disclosing this personal health decision was a hard but necessary choice,” Wiener writes. “We know how to end HIV infection. We simply need the political will to ensure that the community has accurate information about and access to all prevention methods, including PrEP. I hope my disclosure can play a role in moving us toward these goals.”
Winer’s disclosure comes on the same week that San Francisco officials are ramping up their efforts to expand access to Truvada for men and women in the city. Officials are pushing for a new resolution that would make the drug more available for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. San Francisco is also one of three cities in the country conducting demonstration projects on the practical uses of PrEP.
Public officials disclosing their personal medical histories can go a long way toward influencing public opinion and lessening stigma. For instance, last month, the speaker of the New York City Council tweeted that she has contracted HPV, a move that could encourage more people to get screened and vaccinated. News anchors have undergone mammograms on air to raise awareness about breast cancer. And after actress Angelina Jolie decided to have a double mastectomy last year because she has a rare genetic mutation that increases her risk of cancer, more American women started getting tested for the gene.