16:14 17 July 2012
United States health regulators have, for the first time, given the seal of approval to a drug believed to prevent the HIV infection.
Wonder drug Truvada can be used by those at high risk of infection and those who may engage in sexual activity with HIV-infected partners, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
While the drug doesn't have a 100% effectiveness, California-based drug company Gilead Sciences, claim that usage reduced the risk of contracting HIV by up to 73%.
Studies carried out in 2010 suggested an effectiveness of between 44% and 73%.
"Every year, about 50,000 U.S. adults and adolescents are diagnosed with HIV infection, despite the availability of prevention methods and strategies to educate, test and care for people living with the disease," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in a statement announcing the decision.
"New treatment as well as prevention methods are needed to fight the HIV epidemic in this country."
The move to green light the drug drew criticism from some groups who argued that it promoted a false sense of security in those who take the once-daily pill. Indeed, Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called the decision a "catastrophe".
James Loduca, spokesman for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation countered: "Truvada for (prevention) won't end AIDS by itself, but we certainly can't end the HIV epidemic without it".
Another concern is that a drug-resistant strain of HIV could develop.
In a statement, the FDA stressed that the drug should be used as part of a "comprehensive HIV prevention plan" which included condom use and regular HIV testing.
In May, an advisory group of health experts recommended approval for the pill and Truvada was already approved by the FDA when taken with existing anti-retroviral drugs for HIV sufferers. Whether or not it will be approved in other nations is yet to be seen.
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