Just when you thought 2016 might be the year when ridiculous anti-PrEP propaganda would come to a halt, Michael Weinstein, CEO of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, starts touting some conspiracy nonsense.
The daily drug dosage known as PrEP — a.k.a. pre-exposure prophylaxis — reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent when taken consistently. That's scientifically undeniable. But even though his accusations might not hold weight, unfortunately, the man with the $1 billion budget always gets heard.
Now AHF has filed a bogus Food and Drug Administration complaint against Gilead Sciences for allegedly conspiring to promote Truvada, the only drug so far approved for PrEP, for situational, off-label use.
Although it’s no surprise to most, Weinstein has gotten it embarrassingly wrong on all counts. One, the advertisement AHF takes aim at, although controversial for other reasons, does not suggest the "situational" use of PrEP as AHF alleges. (Taking the drug without adhering to a daily schedule is not FDA approved.) Two, Gilead had no part in the creation or development of the advertisement or any other PrEP advertisement by an independent organization.
To date, Gilead has yet to release a single ad for PrEP. Instead, the drug company has left it up to HIV service organizations to educate those at-risk for HIV about the benefits that the prevention strategy has to offer. The movement to spread awareness has been an uphill battle, primarily because Weinstein, via AHF, has spent thousands buying ad space in local publications, shaming those who would use the prevention drug, purporting false claims of dangerous side effects, and calling Truvada, in its revolutionary HIV prevention use, a mere “party drug.” With a resounding “ugh,” HIV prevention specialists across the country have spent the last three years trying to cut through the ridiculous hype and fear-based rhetoric so that people who need PrEP can take advantage of its tremendous benefits.
After a while, Weinstein seemed to recognize the virtual island he stood on and toned down his stance on PrEP. AHF released a new series of advertorials acknowledging the value of PrEP. However, the organization and its leader’s thinly veiled attempts to come across as rational after their moralizing smear tactics were far too late and way too weak for the rest of the community to take seriously. PrEP advocates and prevention specialists, however, were thankful for the ceasefire because it meant they could now exclusively focus their efforts on education and awareness.
Gilead — staying above the noise — continued to use its resources to grant unrestricted funds to HIV prevention programs. According to a Gilead representative, the organizations responsible for developing the video received an unrestricted educational grant from the drug company. Beyond funding, the rep says, all development and ownership of the content belongs to the grantee. Last year, Gilead announced that it gave 66 unrestricted educational grants to organizations across the country as a part of its comprehensive prevention strategy.
Here are the facts. The “I Like to Party” video advertisement in question discusses realistic behaviors of a large population who are at high-risk for HIV. It was a part of a PrEP educational series conceived and created by Savas Abadsidis and Kenny Neal Shults for Public Health Solutions and Connected Health Solutions, two organizations that received unrestricted funds to be used for HIV prevention and awareness.
The video in question showcases adult film star J.D. Phoenix, who admits that he likes to “party,” a reference to having sex while using recreational drugs. This scene takes place at a sweaty nightclub with the subtle foreshadowing of sex to come. Then, in the next scene, Phoenix appears sitting on a couch, dressed and alone, when a timer on his phone goes off reminding him to take his dose of Truvada. Then Phoenix says, “And I like to be safe.”
Suggestive? Yes. Provocative? Absolutely. But in no way does it explicitly promote situational use of Truvada. To draw such a speculative conclusion says nothing about the ad and everything about AHF, an organization that appears distracted from its mission.
AHF is embroiled in lawsuits in numerous cities, for example, many of which have nothing to do with the programs and services it is tasked to provide. Under the leadership of Weinstein, the organization continues to use its funds to pay for advertorials, massive lawyer fees, and Business Wire press releases to advance its agenda against PrEP and anything else it deems inappropriate under its moral superiority.
If AHF wants to progress as a real leader in HIV treatment and prevention in the future, the organization should quit spending so much time and money on fighting battles that do not further its actual purpose.