Throughout the summer of 2018, much attention was given to a patent case in the United Kingdom. Gilead, a company that “[strives] to transform and simplify care for people with life-threatening illnesses around the world” was taken to court by numerous public health groups to break the patent on its medication, Truvada. The medicine is a common part of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for the prevention of HIV and, since its introduction in the general population of the U.K. and the United States in 2012, has become a topic of much concern for queer men and people of color in general. Gilead has been accused of increasing the price of Truvada, thereby precluding regular adoption amongst the poorer of the aforementioned groups, especially those without medical insurance. However, with a court ruling, the patent was broken in the U.K., with most public health officials seeing this as a move for increased accessed and reduced HIV infection rates (Fitzsimons, 2018). Similar efforts have ramped up in the U.S., as well, with most seeing the patent breaking as a means for eventually ending the HIV/AIDs crisis. As a lead-up to this project, much of the energy surrounding the case generated much content on Twitter. This content provides researchers a useful repository for examining how information about Truvada and PrEP is circulated amongst public health advocates and organizations, members of the general public, and medical professionals. Of note for the purpose of this project are the typically examined New Media sites that minority groups use for sexual health communication, as well as their effectiveness or ineffectiveness in getting information from medical professionals in an efficient, digestible manner. What remains to be examined is how a certain topic gets taken up by a specific community—of which is directly affected by that medical development—within particular New Media spaces.
This project examines this plethora of context-specific content by drawing on an ecologies-based model of internet research. Using the Moments feature on Twitter, a repository of tweets posted from July to October 2018 was gathered through keyword search using the terms “Truvada” and “PrEP.” These tweets were posted by 1) members of the general public; 2) public health advocates and health organizations; and 3) medical professionals (insofar as these details were available on the users’ profiles). They were then ran through a coding schema based on the ecological model of internet research to see how health information surrounding Truvada flowed among multiple stakeholders. For the purpose of this project, the knowledge of Truvada and PrEP, as well as the events described earlier, act as the initial point of rhetoricity traced through the tweets. Put another way, the data was approached as already having been based on the existence of PrEP and how people mitigated multiple factors around learning about Truvada, the regimen, and any other details around the topic.