Pride activists march in support of PrEP Photo: Graham Ó Síodhacháin

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By Isobel Rushe

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s (PBAC) recommendation to list PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is a critical step towards dramatically reducing HIV transmission in Australia.

A listing on PBS will bring PrEP within reach of many of those who are at risk of HIV transmission across Australia.

PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90% when used consistently.

Executive Director of the National Association of people with HIV Australia, Aaron Cogle said PBAC’s decision will drastically help the HIV Community; “This is an incredibly important outcome and we welcome the PBAC decision,”

“Equitable access to PrEP for HIV negative people is an important advancement for those already living with HIV as well. It will help counter stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. This drug helps share the responsibility amongst all to reduce HIV Transmission.”

Previous access to the medicine has been difficult with the full commercial cost being exorbitantly expensive at almost $5,000 per year. Australian PrEP users have mainly accessed it through state and territory trials or online imports.

PBS Access to PrEP will decrease the cost dramatically. A single averted HIV transmission will save the Australian taxpayer $1,000,000 in lifetime costs.

 “It is imperative that we make medications like these affordable, at the end of the day it means we will have a healthier Australia.” Said PBAC.

Chief executive officer of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Darryl O’Donnell says this is only the beginning of the end with a lot more needing to be done; “PBS listing of PrEP is a huge step towards the Australian Government’s goal of ending Australian HIV transmission. However, this is only the beginning of the end we need to work really hard to remove the stigma and get people using this preventative treatment,”

“HIV thrives in the shadows of stigma and discrimination. It takes real resources to bring it into the open and prevent its transmission.”

Currently, over 30% of all new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among youth ages 15 to 25 years.

Young people’s risk of becoming newly infected with HIV is closely correlated with age of sexual debut. It is integral that young people receive education and access to drugs like PrEP to help prevent transmission.

23-year-old Kimberly Harding-Peter has been living with HIV for the last two years, she says there are lots of things that can help the HIV community to reduce those who are HIV positive; “The list is endless in terms of what needs to happen, education is a huge one, how do you even know unless your suffering that there are preventative drugs out there? HIV seems to be one of those “this will never happen to me” diseases.”

“I am sure that the listing of PrEP on the PBS will bring education to those about HIV and this is what I’m most thrilled about. That and the financial benefits.”

Sex workers also carry a lot of the burden when it comes to HIV in Australia. Great effort will be needed to ensure PrEP access and awareness across all parts of this community.

Chief executive Officer of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, Kim Jules said; “For sex workers to fully benefit from new HIV technologies, we need to end the criminalisation of sex work and create an enabling environment free of stigma and discrimination. If this doesn’t happen, it makes it hard for sex workers to access effective, evidence passed prevention.”

“Australia was an early leader in containing the spread of HIV. We now have an opportunity to resume that global leadership by ending HIV transmission, there is a long way to go but we need to get started” Said Mr. O’Donnell

The Australia Government has already committed to honouring PBAC’s recommendation in a timely manner.