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New federal program to help thousands access HIV prevention drug

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it’s launching a new federal program to help thousands of uninsured Americans access prEP, the life-saving HIV prevention drug, at zero cost.

“It’s really a historic day. Quite frankly, it’s unprecedented,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “This is such a remarkable program. We have negotiated for this product to be free — free!”

Azar says that without insurance, daily doses of prEP can cost up to $2,000 per month.

Starting in March, Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies will distribute the drug in every state.

Azar says there’s only three requirements for patients to get access to the drug through this new program. “Individuals who do not have insurance, do not have HIV and get a prescription from a doctor,” Azar said.

With U.S. statistics showing nearly 40,000 new HIV cases each year, Azar says prevention medicine is key in ending the HIV epidemic over the next 10 years.

“PrEP is highly effective preventive intervention,” Amy Killelea, senior director of Health Systems and Policy at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS, said. Killelea says access to drugs will help high risk populations in rural and metropolitan areas. “The 1.1 million people in this country who are indicated for prEP, who are eligible for prEP — only 18% of that number is utilizing prEP," she said.

Drug manufacturer Gilead Sciences makes prEP and is donating the supply. HHS calculates that it’s enough supply to help 200,000 people each year for the next decade.

While Gilead is also being sued by the federal government for patent infringement over prEP, Azar says the two issues are unrelated.

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