The cost of HIV prevention pill PrEP will drastically reduce after it finally received approval for addition to the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) on Friday.
PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a once-daily pill that has been found to dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission in HIV-negative people, in conjunction with other safe sex measures.
In its decision published late on Friday, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) found PrEP provides “a significant reduction” in the risk of HIV transmission in combination with other safe sex practices.
Around 10,000 Australians are currently receiving free PrEP through trials being run by state governments, including in Queensland, but without a PBS subsidy the cost of the medication has put it out of reach of many men not on a trial.
The long-awaited PBAC approval gives the green light for federal health minister Greg Hunt to list the drug on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, making it available to at-risk men at a much lower price.
The PBS listing would lower the price of the medication from thousands of dollars a year down to less than $40 per month for a prescription.
Mr Hunt said in December if the drug was recommended for listing by PBAC, the government “will list it and list it quickly.”
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) CEO Darryl O’Donnell welcomed the decision, saying a single averted HIV transmission saves the Australian taxpayer $1 million in lifetime costs.
“Making PrEP available and affordable is not only a public health goal, it will also save millions of dollars,” he said.
He said the government needed coordinated leadership and resources to end HIV transmission in Australia.
“Gay and bisexual men continue to carry the greatest burden of HIV in Australia, and we expect that PrEP will sharply drive down rates of HIV for this community,” he said.
“But great effort will be needed to ensure PrEP access and awareness across all parts of the gay community.
“Additionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, migrant communities and some heterosexual populations have seen starkly higher rates of HIV transmission over the last five years.
“While a PBS listing of PrEP is critical, we must make sure everyone who needs PrEP is aware of it and can access it.”