Australians are urging its Federal government health body, Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), to make HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Should this happen, more than 30,000 Australians at high risk of HIV will have easy access to the preventive drug and at a subsidised cost.
The PrEP drug Truvada was approved for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in June 2016. It is currently being used in several trials nationwide among high risk populations in order to study its efficiency.
Three variant brands of Truvada being used as treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS are already listed on the PBS. Various studies have shown that PrEP can prevent HIV infection by over 90 percent if taken correctly.
Truvada Available but Expensive
Truvada is currently available in Australia but at a very high cost making it unavailable to most people. Should the PBAC allow the drug to be listed on the PBS, the drug will then be available at a much subsidised rate increasing accessibility.
Currently, the drug is only accessible to those participating in the trials and the few who can afford it. PBAC previously rejected calls for the PBS listing for Truvada as a preventive measure.
However, in July this year, PBAC took into consideration a proposal by Mylan, the manufacturers of Truvada PrEP to list it on PBS. The proposal is yet to be approved and discussions are underway.
Should PBAC accept the proposal, the next step will be negotiating a price, making quality checks and finally getting an approval from the Turnbull government.
Though a lengthy process, the outcome will be worth it. Various politicians are calling upon the government to throw its weight behind the debate and support the listing of PrEP on the PBS, and also to initiate more PrEP trials in Australia.
Expand PrEP Trials
Approximately 8000 people are currently taking part in PrEP studies and trials in a number of states across Australia. A lot more are unable to enrol in the trials and therefore, not able to access the pill.
Australia has been in the forefront in fighting HIV and has in the recent past seen increased success in reducing new infection rates. Several states, including New South Wales, have continued to report declining rates of new HIV infections.
One of the biggest effort has been to increase HIV testing for early diagnosis and treatment. More people especially among gay and bisexual men have been going for regular testing thus allowing early diagnosis.
When early diagnosis is made possible, the patients can be put on early treatment improving their health significantly. The more infected people are place on HIV treatment, the lower their chances of infecting other people.
HIV campaigners and other stakeholders in Australia believe that easy access to PrEP across the nation is the next important step in eliminating HIV infections along with the current regular testing and treatment efforts such as the HIV PEP treatment.
They are therefore calling upon PBAC and the Australian government to reconsider the decision to exclude Truvada for PrEP from the PBS listing as this greatly impedes access to the highly effective HIV prevention drug.