South Korea’s Health Ministry has approved of PrEP for the first time.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, known 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%.
The country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety have recognised Truvada, a brand of PrEP, for its ability to prevent HIV. Previously, Truvada had only been approved as treatment for those already living with HIV in South Korea.
Despite the breakthrough, questions have been raised over the drug’s accessibility, as each pill will cost 13,720 won (around £9.16), according to Korea Bizwire.
That amounts to almost 5 million won (around £3,339) per year if taken daily as instructed– the Korean Society for AIDS recommends that men who have sex with men (MSM) take Truvada once every day for prevention.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of new HIV cases in the country increased by 43.2% between 2010 and 2016.
A recent UNAIDS report described HIV as a “highly stigmatised disease” in South Korea, and found that 42.3% of people living with HIV hadn’t received any form of counselling with their HIV test.
The study also found that 61.5% of respondents were tested without their knowledge during other medical examinations.
“The high level of internalised stigma signifies that people living with HIV in South Korea are repeatedly exposed to the negative attitudes toward them,” the report states.
“More than 70% of survey respondents stated that they felt that the public media’s views and remarks on them were derogatory.
“It is also important to note that 63.5% of people agreed with that religious groups contribute to spread negative views of people living with HIV.”
Last year, a man taking part in a PrEP trial in Melbourne tested positive for HIV, making him the first patient in Australia and the fourth around the world to acquire HIV while taking the drug.
The Victorian AIDS Council said the man may have failed to regularly take his prescribed dose, or could have come into contact with a person living with a strain of the virus that’s resistant to PrEP.
“There have been no reported occurrences of widespread PrEP failure here or around the world,” they reassured.
“The vast majority of people taking PrEP in this country and around the world continue to be protected by this powerful HIV prevention tool.”
In June, the World Health Organisation added PrEp to its list of ‘essential medicines’, after Scotland announced they would be the first country to make the “life-changing” treatment available on the NHS.
“For every person who would have become HIV positive without PrEP, NHS Scotland will save £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs,” said Robert McKay, the National Director for Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland.