Australian government to subsidise HIV-preventing PrEP drugs


The Australian government will be offering subsidised HIV-preventing drugs, it has announced.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada, which can drastically reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV, has seen a massive uptake by the gay community globally over the past few years.

The drug is recommended for groups considered to be at high risk of exposure to HIV, most significantly men who have sex with men – and the evidence suggests that it can massively reduce HIV infections where it is provided to groups.

In a historic step, the Australian government today confirmed that it would subsidise the cost of PrEP across the entire country, adding it to a list of eligible medications for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which subsidises the cost of prescription drugs for Australians.

While branded PrEP drugs would previously have cost Australians thousand of dollars, Health Minister Greg Hunt says they will now be able to access the drugs at a greatly reduced price.

It will be available to people at high risk of HIV at a cost of $39.50 per month, with users receiving a three month prescription and a sexual health check each time they visit their GP.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with health minister Greg Hunt (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)

Mr Hunt said: “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.

“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.”

Professor Darrell O Donnell, chief executive of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, said: “Having PrEP available at an affordable price through the PBS is a huge advance.

“This will drive a substantial reduction in transmission and allow us to turbo-charge the Australian HIV response. This medicine is astoundingly effective and the Australian Government is to be congratulated for being one of the world’s first to make it available through public subsidy.

“This announcement continues Australian leadership on HIV, with Australia having been the first country in the world to commit to a goal of virtually eliminating HIV transmission, by 2020.

“PrEP is an essential piece of the puzzle, but to drive HIV to very low levels, we will need co-ordinated leadership and additional resources for the Australian HIV response. We have every opportunity ahead of us, but it will take great determination and effort.

“We will need to ensure all those who can benefit from PrEP know of its availability and can consider whether this prevention tool is right for them.

“Investment in HIV prevention makes excellent financial sense. Each averted HIV transmission saves the Australian taxpayer $1,000,000 in lifetime costs.

“Australia has taken a huge step forward with today’s decision to list PrEP on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The challenge now is to capitalise on this progress.”

The news was also welcomed by LGBT groups.

Dr Justin Koonin, of leading HIV and LGBTI health organisation ACON, said: “This listing of PrEP on the PBS is very important as it finally gives affordable access to the highly effective HIV prevention drug to people across Australia”

“We are thrilled this milestone has been achieved. Widespread access to PrEP is critical if we are to meet our goal of ending HIV transmissions in NSW so we commend the Australian Government on this decision.

“Combining PrEP with high HIV testing rates among gay men, strong treatment uptake among people with HIV and the continuing high rates of condom use gives us the tools to deliver the biggest reductions in HIV transmission rates in NSW in three decades.”

PrEP was approved by the Therapeutics Goods Administration in May 2016, but without federal subsidy, the proven technology has been too expensive for most people.

“We know that PrEP works and today’s announcement will ensure those who would benefit most from PrEP will now be able to access it in an affordable way,” Dr Koonin said.

“Our community has demonstrated that it is ready to incorporate PrEP into their lives as part of the range of HIV prevention options that we now have available.

“ACON salutes gay men, both HIV positive and HIV negative, for their commitment and action to end HIV transmission. We remain steadfast in our commitment to further driving down infection rates.”

In the UK, the popularity of PrEP has been partly credited for a steep decline in HIV infections in the city.

Specialist websites in the UK that provide generic PrEP drugs at a low cost have been inundated with thousands of users.

NHS England has also launched a large-scale trial via sexual health clinics, offering the drug to 10,000 at-risk people, primarily men who have sex with men.