From March 1st, the New Zealand Government will fund PrEP under the brand name Truvada for people at high risk of contracting HIV.
Pharmac Chief Executive Sarah Fitt said in a statement that while the funding decision should significantly reduce the country’s HIV transmission rates, safe sex, early diagnosis and access to treatment were still vital to keeping people safe.
New Zealand will be one of the first countries in the world to publicly fund PrEP for the prevention of HIV, at one of the lowest cost to users worldwide at $1.20 (€0.59) per month.
This sees a dramatic reduction in cost to users, previously a prescription for the drug would cost $731 per month. Many resorted to purchasing PrEP online which still cost around $36 per month.
First launched in the United States in 2012, PrEP works to prevent HIV from establishing infection inside the body. Two large clinical trials found that PrEP taken on a daily basis reduces the risk of HIV infection by 86 percent. However, many experts view this figure to be a conservative estimate and believe the real rate of risk reduction to be much higher.
PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STI) or pregnancy, and it is not a cure for HIV. However, it is recognised as a powerful HIV prevention tool when combined with condoms and other prevention methods.
Positive Impact on LGBT+ Community
The decision to publically fund PrEP, which was a promise from the Labour party during elections, has been celebrated by New Zealand’s LGBT+ community.
The executive director of New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF), Dr Jason Myers, said that it will have an incredibly positive impact on the rate of HIV transmission.
“Providing affordable access to PrEP for those who need it will make an enormous difference to those most at risk of HIV transmissions.
“It’s a giant leap forward for our ambitious goal of ending new HIV transmissions in New Zealand by 2025.
“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,” he added.
PrEP in Ireland
Generic PrEP was made available in Irish pharmacies last December.
Due to the fact that the HSE has not yet moved to reimburse PrEP, the medication is not available to patients under the GMS or Drug Payment Scheme and must be paid for in full by the patient on presentation of a doctor’s prescription.
The cost for a user is approximately €80 to €100 for a month’s supply, which is about 70% cheaper than the cost of its branded equivalent, Truvada.
While welcoming the development, Adam Shanley, Community HIV Activist stated: “It’s one step closer to ensuring that there’s access to PrEP for those who need it, but it still does have a considerable barrier [for those] who won’t be able to afford it. We know that some of the most vulnerable people in our community in terms of HIV infection also have an intersectionality with their ability to pay.
“There is a considerable drop in the price that the HSE would now have to pay to make PrEP reimbursable, so the cost-effectiveness argument, if it was in any way questionable before, has no basis now.”
Sandra Gannon, General Manager at Teva said they are “engaging with HSE to progress this issue to ensure that PrEP can be accessed by all.”
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