As with all chronic diseases and conditions the approved medical treatment guidelines serve as an important marker, not only for patients and the medical professionals who treat them, but also the payors. This is certainly no different with HIV/AIDS. That is why the ADAP Advocacy Association is calling on the Health Resources and Services Administration ("HRSA") at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to update its treatment guidelines for HIV-associated lipodystrophy. HRSA's current guidelines need to correct a statement regarding growth hormone-releasing factor, because it does not accurately reflect the available treatment to patients suffering from lipodystrophy disease.
According to WebMD, "Lipodystrophy is a problem with the way the body produces, uses, and stores fat. It is also called fat redistribution. Since the widespread use of antiretroviral therapy began, the numbers of HIV-positive people with lipodystrophy has increased. Today, lipodystrophy occurs in 30% to 50% of people who are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)."
The ADAP Advocacy Association has increasingly supported educational initiatives aimed at tackling HIV-related co-mordibities, as well as HIV-related stigma. Combatting lipodystrophy falls under both categories. Researchers have concluded lipodystrophy is associated with increased rates of hypertension, diabetes, and lipids for patients experiencing lipodystrophy. Furthermore, long term psychological affects are present among patients, especially among those patients age 65 and older.
Lipodystrophy is more than a cosmetic issue, especially for the HIV-positive patients living with the disease. For example, people living with HIV often believe the doughy fat around their midsection can be addressed by a healthy diet and exercise alone. But diet and exercise may not be enough to combat the challenges associated with visceral adipose tissue ("VAT"). The "Don’t Take VAT" website – www.DontTakeVAT.com – includes fact sheets about VAT and healthy living with HIV, as well as a video that provides a deeper look at VAT and tips about what to ask your doctor.
[Editor's Note: Read our related blog, "HIV-Related Belly Fat: More Than Just an Appearance Issue"]
But more needs to be done, frankly!
In 2010, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration ("FDA") approved Tesamorelin (trade name Egrifta) as treatment for lipodystrophy. Whereas some private health insurance plans cover this treatment option, public payors mostly don't cover it. Only three State AIDS Drug Assistance Programs ("ADAP") include Tesamorelin on its approved drug formulary, including Minnesota (though it requires a prior authorization), New Jersey, and Washington State. Not a single Medicaid program includes Tesamorelin on its Preferred Drug List ("PDL"). By restricting access to an FDA-approved treatment represents a disservice to the patients suffering from HIV-associated lipodystrophy.
Ironically, some states cite "cost" as the prohibitive factor for the reason lipodystrophy treatment isn't added to their approved drug formulary or PDL. Yet, other costly (and still needed) supports and services are covered -- such as counseling, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery.
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This effort shouldn't be interpreted as an endorsement of the particular product, Tesamorelin. The simple fact is Tesamorelin is the only product on the market approved by the FDA used in the treatment of HIV-associated lipodystrophy. Talk to patients who are living with HIV-associated lipodystrophy, and listen to their stories about the physical discomfort associated with the disease, or the stigma that they encounter on a daily basis living with the physical disformity caused by the disease.
Massachusetts is already leading the way to improve access to care and treatment for people living with HIV-associated lipodystrophy. The Treat Lipodystrophy Coalition fought tirelessly for the law to require insurance coverage for treatment of a debilitating and disfiguring side effect of HIV medications. Patients living with HIV-associated lipodystrophy are now demanding the same be done with public payors, such as ADAP and Medicaid.
Summarized Carl Sciortino, executive director for the AIDS Action Committee, and former representative in the Massachusetts Legislature who introduced the aforementioned legislation: "Some of our long-term survivors carrying the physical scars of earlier life-saving treatments have been denied the dignity and medical treatment they are entitled to for far too long. Lipodystrophy affects our veterans, and as a country we have effectively turned our backs on their need to treat their epidemic-inflicted wounds. I'm proud of our step forward in providing insurance coverage in Massachusetts, and I'm grateful for any interest it sparks in providing care to people living with HIV across the country."
To endorse this effort by adding your organization to the ADAP Advocacy Association's national sign-on letter, CLICK HERE. The deadline for signing on to the letter is COB on Monday, November 7, 2016.
 WebMD, "Lipodystrophy and HIV," 2016; available online at http://www.webmd.com/hiv-aids/guide/lipodystrophy_and_hiv.
 Mascolini, Mark, "HIV Drug Therapy, Glasgow Oct 23-26 2016," NATAP, 2016; available online at http://www.natap.org/2016/GLASGOW/GLASGOW_18.htm.