Does a pill that prevents the spread of HIV promote unsafe sex?

In July 2012, the FDA approved Truvada to reduce the risk of HIV infection in uninfected individuals who are at high risk of HIV infection. This use of an anti-HIV drug to prevent infection is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). (AP/Jeff Chiu)

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A Canadian clinic trial is about to begin on a drug that could be a game changer in the fight against HIV-AIDS. A pill that could prevent it, that would reduce the risk of infection among uninfected people believed to be at risk. Already some doctors are prescribing it off-label and already there's controversy, as some worry it will be seen as a cure-all and will discourage the use of condom.



"We know that even when people try to have the safest sexual practice. HIV is still a danger in terms of transmission. And we need other methods, that are going to add to the methods we already know to prevent HIV transmission. There has been several studies that have shown that taking a pill to prevent HIV acquisition can work."

Dr. Cécile Tremblay, infectious disease specialist in Montreal

Dr. Cécile Tremblay is running the first clinical trial in Canada into a drug that shows promise in preventing HIV. It's estimated that more than 65,000 Canadians carry the virus linked to AIDS and more are infected each year. Now, a drug that's used to treat the virus, Truvada, is being tested to see if it works to prevent HIV infection. The U.S. approved it for this use in 2012.

It's creating buzz and hope -- that this could be a game changer in the fight against HIV. But there are concerns -- both about it's effectiveness and whether having a pill will tempt men not to use condoms.


  • Dr. Darrell Tan is a Clinician Scientist in the Division of Infectious Diseases at St. Michael's Hospital. He is also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. Dr. Darrell Tan was in our Toronto studio.

  • Len Tooley takes the drug Truvada to help prevent HIV. He is also the Coordinator of Community Health Promotions at CATIE -- Canada's Source for HIV and HEP C Information. He was also in Toronto.

We asked Health Canada if it's considering approval of Truvada as a prophylactic. It says its up to the drug manufacturer to apply, but won't confirm if that process is underway.

We also reached out to the drug company, but have not heard back.


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This segment was produced by The Current's Dawna Dingwall and Shannon Higgins.

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