PrEP is about to get a lot cheaper for Australians.
The country’s health minister, Greg Hunt, has announced that the HIV prevention drug will be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which subsidises the cost of prescription drugs, from 1 April.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly referred to as PrEP, is an anti-retroviral drug taken by HIV-negative people which, if used consistently, can help to reduce the risk of contracting the virus by more that 90%.
“This is about saving lives and protecting lives but it’s also about saying to the rest of the world, if we can do this in Australia, we cannot just beat HIV here, but beat it right around the world,” said Hunt.
“This moment was impossible, impossible, a generation ago. At least 32,000 patients a year we expect to benefit. It comes with the very strong message that… PrEP and safe sex together are the pathway to beating HIV in Australia.
“This is a great moment in Australian medical history.”
The drug is recommended for groups considered high-risk, including men who have sex with men (MSM).
Under the new plan, general patients will be able to access branded versions of PrEP for a greatly reduced price of $39.50 a month, while concession holders will pay $6.40 a month.
Without this $180 million government subsidy, PrEP would otherwise cost $2,500 a year.
“Investment in HIV prevention makes excellent financial sense,” added Professor Darrel O’Donnell, CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations. “Each averted HIV transmission saves the Australian taxpayer $1,000,000 in lifetime costs.”
Last year, it was reported that an Australian man taking part in a PrEP trial had tested positive for HIV.
At the time, he was only the fourth recorded person around the world to acquire HIV while taking PrEP, following similar cases in Toronto, New York and Amsterdam.
The Victorian AIDS Council have highlighted two possible reasons for this – firstly, if a person fails to regularly take their prescribed dose then it’s possible that they wouldn’t be protected.
Secondly, if a person comes into contact with a person living with HIV who has a detectable viral load and a strain of the virus that is resistant to the PrEP medication, it is possible that they may be infected.