Health professionals around regional Queensland are being brought up to speed on new approaches to HIV treatment and prevention during the HIV Foundation Queensland (HIVFQ)’s Treatment as Prevention Roadshow.
The roadshow is aimed at a wide range of health professionals throughout regional Queensland, including non-HIV specialists, to inform them of the adoption of the latest approach to curtailing the spread of HIV, called Treatment as Prevention or “TasP.”
HIVFQ has brought international experts to Australia to join them on the roadshow and demonstrate the validity of the new approach based on the progress they’ve made in their own countries.
Dr Rolando Barrios (pictured) from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is one of those experts, and he said the “TasP” approach worked two ways.
“Treatment for people living with HIV treatment leads to the amount of virus in their blood becoming so small it is undetectable. When someone has an undetectable viral load, new evidence from a larger scale study shows there were no transmissions of HIV,” he said.
“But the really ground-breaking thing about TAsP is that HIV negative people at risk can also take HIV treatment (one tablet a day) and this prevents them from being infected – this is called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).”
HIVFQ chairperson Dr Darren Russell said that to end new transmissions of HIV by 2020, it must be a multi-faceted approach with support from the medical fraternity and wider community.
“Through our TasP Roadshow we hope to see health care providers asking themselves, ‘Do I know the HIV status of my patients?’ and ‘How can I best support my patients who require life-long HIV treatment?’” he said.
“With the old class of drugs, the accepted approach was to wait as long as possible before prescribing treatment as the drugs available at the time were highly toxic and in some cases caused horrible side effects, often worsening the condition of patients.
Dr Russell said the new medication, on the other hand, is “tolerated well and has very few side effects, meaning more patients could be receiving treatment and more patients could be receiving treatment earlier.”
Australia is close to reaching the United Nations’ targets of 90-90-90, meaning 90 per cent of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV will receive antiretroviral treatment, and 90 per cent of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads.
Dr Russell said in Australia, it is currently estimated that 88 per cent of those living with HIV are aware of their status, 73 per cent are receiving antiretroviral treatments, and 92 per cent have a suppressed viral load, meaning they cannot transmit the virus. Dr Russell said subsidised PrEP on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was key to reaching the UN targets.
The HIV Foundation Queensland’s HIV Treatment as Prevention Roadshow 2016 runs until August 5 and will travel throughout Queensland, starting in Brisbane, then travelling to the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Sunshine Coast, Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton and Bundaberg.