The Victorian government will spend $400,000 to extend its PrEP trial, ensuring thousands of patients will continue to have uninterrupted access to the life-saving drug until it is listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Truvada, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), is a one-pill-a-day anti-retroviral medication that prevents the contraction of HIV. PrEP has been proven to be 99% effective in preventing HIV transmission.
The trial, called PrEPX, has helped more than 4,000 people in Melbourne, Geelong, Wodonga and Bendigo to receive PrEP. It's expected to reduce new HIV transmissions in Victoria by up to 30% in the next few years.
The trial was funded until March, but following Friday's decision by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to recommend listing PrEP on the PBS, the Victorian government has committed $400,000 to extend its $1.5 million PrEP trial by an additional three months, to June 30, 2018.
This will allow participants to transition from the trial to accessing PrEP through their regular GP.
“We will continue funding the PrEPX study until the end of June to ensure Victorians currently in the program can transition to accessing PrEP through their regular doctor," Victorian health minister Jill Hennessy told BuzzFeed News.
The PBAC endorsement on Friday clears the way for federal health minister Greg Hunt to list the drug and make it available at a much lower price. Until now, people wishing to take PrEP were either taking part in Australian drug trials or importing a generic version of the drug, sometimes costing more than $100 per month.
The listing on the PBS could bring the cost down to as low as $39 per month, or $6.50 for those with concession cards.
Hennessy said PrEP's addition to the PBS is long overdue and a welcome step towards reaching the Australian goal of eliminating new HIV transmissions by 2020.
“Finally, Australians can be protected by the inclusion of PrEP in the PBS — it’s long overdue," she said. "Improving access to affordability of care is the first step towards eliminating transmission.”
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is currently lining up resources to ensure doctors and nurses will be able to provide PrEP to patients from the first day it becomes available on the PBS.
“This decision will have a tremendous effect on at-risk Victorians and Australians and will fundamentally improve our HIV prevention response," Hennessy said.
There is also a PrEP trial for over 8,000 people currently underway in New South Wales. AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) CEO Nicolas Parkhill said those on trials should keep taking and accessing PrEP the usual way for now.
"More information will be available in the coming weeks and months, and you will receive communication about any changes soon," Parkhill said.
Hunt has previously promised to add PrEP "as quickly as possible" to the PBS once endorsed by PBAC. On Monday his office confirmed to BuzzFeed News the government's intention to fulfil that promise.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
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