The New Zealand AIDS Foundation applauds PHARMAC’s decision to become one of the first countries in the world to publicly fund the HIV-prevention drug Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) – meaning those at high risk of HIV have another way to protect themselves.
From 1 March 2018, Gilead Sciences’ drug Truvada will be available to eligible patients as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) in pharmacies throughout New Zealand at the cost of a normal prescription. When taken on a daily basis by an HIV negative person, PrEP builds up in the system and is extremely effective at reducing the chance of acquiring HIV through sexual contact.
Prior to this game changing development, PrEP was only available at a cost of around $1000 for 30 Truvada pills. As an economical alternative, many users have been forced to import generic versions of the drug from overseas pharmacies at a personal cost of around $50 per month.
PrEP has already been approved for HIV prevention in a number of countries, but this decision means New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to have it publicly funded.
“Providing affordable access to PrEP for those who need it will make an enormous difference to those most at risk of HIV transmission in New Zealand. It’s a giant leap forward for our ambitious goal of ending new HIV transmissions in New Zealand by 2025,” says Dr Jason Myers, Executive Director of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF).
“In deciding to fund PrEP, PHARMAC has endorsed a key part of NZAF’s strategic plan – seeing PrEP as a safe and effective way of preventing HIV transmission during sex, and one that could make a huge impact on the number of new HIV diagnoses in NZ – which was at its highest ever in 2016,” says Dr Myers.
“Condoms have been the mainstay of our HIV prevention response for over 30 years and have played a major role in keeping HIV prevalence low by world standards. For those who struggle with consistent condom use – which can be for a range of legitimate reasons – NZAF is delighted that there will now be publicly funded access to this effective, alternative way of staying safe from HIV for those who need it.”
PHARMAC sought feedback on the proposal to fund PrEP late last year and a consultation process followed. Dr Myers says “we are also extremely heartened to see that PHARMAC took on board suggestions to expand funded PrEP access to include transgender men who are at high risk of HIV.” This is a very important step in addressing one of the health inequalities faced by trans men.
PrEP has a critical role to play as part of a combination HIV prevention approach that includes maintaining high rates of condom use, increased testing and prompt treatment for people living with HIV (PLHIV). The effective rollout of funded PrEP will significantly reduce HIV transmissions in New Zealand.
PrEP: Quick Facts
Truvada is a component of medication taken by HIV positive people to treat the virus. Recent studies have proven that it also works as an effective preventative against HIV.
PrEP consists of two drugs – emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.
PrEP needs to be taken for 7 days before providing adequate protection for receptive anal sex, and 20 days for insertive anal sex or vaginal sex.
PrEP should be continued for 28 days after the last potential HIV exposure in order to have maximum protective effect.
Hundreds of gay and bisexual men are already taking PrEP in New Zealand, and over 80,000 in the USA.
PrEP does not provide any protection from other STIs (eg syphilis, gonorrhoea, and chlamydia). But because taking PrEP requires frequent sexual health monitoring including STI testing, recent studies have suggested that PrEP use may reduce STI prevalence over time, even if condom usage is reduced.
Watch a beginner’s guide to PrEP, with former NZ Olympian Blake Skjellerup: https://www.facebook.com/EndingHIVNZ/videos/10155931613682079/
A list of GPs who are knowledgeable about HIV and PrEP is available at: https://endinghiv.org.nz/prepmap
More information is available at the PrEP Zone at the Ending HIV Big Gay Out this Sunday, February 11th at Coyle Park in Pt Chevalier, Auckland. See the link below for a schedule, with three speakers including Dr Peter Saxton, University of Auckland Director of Gay Men’s Sexual Health.
HIV in New Zealand
Currently, around 3500 people in New Zealand are estimated to be living with HIV. Gay and bisexual men remain the population group most at risk. While gay and bisexual men account for only approximately 2.5% of New Zealand's population, they are consistently over-represented in HIV diagnoses – accounting for 89% of locally acquired HIV diagnoses in 2016.
In 2016, 244 people were diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand. This is the highest number on record.
The public funding of PrEP is expected to have a drastic impact on the overall health of this group, and following from this announcement, NZAF hopes to see a drop in the number of New Zealanders diagnosed with HIV in the next year.
NZAF is New Zealand’s leading HIV prevention and support community organisation. NZAF provides HIV prevention and education to communities most at risk of HIV and support to people living with HIV. NZAF works nationally to deliver HIV prevention campaigns, community engagement, HIV and STI testing and health services, scientific research and advocacy.