As anticipated, today the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) announced its decision to recommend PrEP for federal subsidy. Releasing a statement in response to the news, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) considered the move a “critical step towards dramatically reducing HIV transmission in Australia”.
Should PBAC approve PrEP, federal health minister Greg Hunt had already given a commitment to list the drug on the PBS ASAP . This will cut the cost of the HIV prevention drug, Truvada, from $850 a month to $35.90. An estimated 31,000 people — mostly men who have sex with men — will benefit from today’s announcement. “Gay and bisexual men continue to carry the greatest burden of HIV in Australia, and we expect that PrEP will sharply drive down the rates of HIV for this community,” said AFAO chief executive, Darryl O’Donnell.
Before today’s watershed decision, PrEP was only available in Australia through state-funded trials, at retail prices via a prescription from a GP, or online imports. Now that PrEP is to be made widely — and affordably — available, it is hoped that it will usher in an era of shared responsibility around HIV prevention. “Equitable access to PrEP for HIV-negative people is an important advancement for those already living with HIV. It will help counter stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV,” said Cipri Martinez, president of the National Association of People Living with HIV Australia. “By keeping those at risk of HIV safe, PrEP gives both partners control and confidence. This helps everyone share responsibility for HIV prevention equally.”
Describing PrEP as a “necessary and urgent tool”, Nic Holas, co-founder of The Institute of Many (TIM) — a peer-support group for positive people, agreed: “For too long, people living with HIV have borne the brunt of expectation, responsibility, and blame when it comes to keeping the community safe from HIV. PrEP offers HIV-negative people the opportunity to take more responsibility for their own safety.”
While celebrating PrEP’s approval, O’Donnell said it is important that no-one who wants the drug is left behind. “While PBS listing of PrEP is critical, we must make sure everyone who needs PrEP is aware of it and can access it.”