Since the onset of the AIDS pandemic in 1981, medical researchers from all over the world have been searching for a means to prevent and cure the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This VICE documentary introduces viewers to Truvada, a medication that may be the first effective tool beyond condoms in preventing the spread of HIV.
The filmmakers speak with several activists and medical researchers beginning with Damon L. Jacobs, a proud advocate for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). The PrEP approach to prevention involves HIV-negative individuals taking anti-HIV medications in an effort to reduce their risk of contraction should they come into contact with the virus. Leading PrEP drug Truvada combines two existing medications - Tenofovir and Emtricitabine - ordinarily used to treat those already infected. When the FDA approved Truvada as a PrEP option Jacobs expected it would garner far more attention than it did. Disappointed but inspired, he took it upon himself to educate others.
Jacobs invites viewers into his quarterly medical screening with Dr. Howard Grossman, the former director of the American Academy of HIV Medication who has been in the field since the dawn of the pandemic. The audience is walked through the PrEP exam, which involves a mouth swab and blood work to test kidney function and for STIs. Grossman also keeps tabs on potential Truvada side effects such as loss of bone density, decrease in kidney function, and gastrointestinal upset. He notes these side effects often go away quickly if they are experienced at all, and highlights the overall benefit of patients coming in more regularly for STI and HIV testing, which not only keeps patients on top of their sexual health but enables a more open dialogue about sex between patient and doctor.
The importance of education and open dialogue are common themes throughout Stopping HIV: The Truvada Revolution, which emphasizes the negative impact of judgmental attitudes towards sex as well as disparities in health care based on race and financial status. Representatives from New York's AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Harlem United are just a few of the interview subjects that help shed light on the current state of HIV treatment in the United States in this frank and honest short film.