Queensland’s Health Department will close the state’s trial of HIV prevention medication PrEP 18 months earlier than planned, removing $740,000 in funding from the Queensland AIDS Council.
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.
The federal government finally listed the medication on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from April 1 this year, dropping the cost from as high as $2000 a month to $40 per month.
The Queensland Government has run a trial of the medication, providing PrEP free to participants, since late 2016 and said this week it will end early on January 31 next year, instead of June 30, 2020.
The Queensland AIDS Council, which is administering the trial, said the move was disappointing and they were concerned about the possibility of participants – especially those in regional and rural areas – seroconverting if the early closure did not allow them sufficient time to find an alternative means of accessing prescriptions for PrEP.
“There is currently a shortage of GPs across Queensland who have knowledge of PrEP to absorb those coming off the trial,” QuAC said.
The organisation said they also didn’t want to see Medicare-ineligible participants or some low-income earners stop taking PrEP after the trial because of the prohibitive cost.
A spokesperson for Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles told the Brisbane Times the decision was taken because QuAC had already achieved the outcome of promoting PrEP and getting it listed on the PBS.
“The main reason is that it has achieved its objectives of getting the trial added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, so it is much more affordable,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson disagreed that removing the funding would impact on the ability of people living with HIV outside Brisbane to receive treatment from GPs.
QuAC President Peter Black said the organisation would now work to ensure that participants on the trial who wish to continue to access PrEP can do so after the trial with minimal interruption to their medication regime.
“For all the reasons we articulated to Queensland Health, everyone at QuAC is obviously very disappointed that the QPrEPd trial is coming to a premature end,” he said.
“The associated loss of funding will also have a significant financial impact on the Queensland AIDS Council.
“However, QuAC has lost funding before and, as we have demonstrated before, QuAC isn’t going anywhere and will remain resolutely committed to improving the health and wellbeing of Queensland’s LGBTIQ, Brotherboy and Sistergirl communities.”
Black said the success of PrEP and Treatment as Prevention (TasP) was demonstrated by the removal of AIDS as a notifiable condition earlier this month and were “wonderful developments” for the LGBTIQ community.
“They also require organisations like QuAC to reimagine a different future as not just an AIDS council but as an organisation that is committed to all aspects of the health and wellbeing of the Queensland’s LGBTIQ, Brotherboy and Sistergirl communities,” he said.
QuAC’s new Executive Director Rebecca Reynolds, who was appointed in August, will engage in extensive community consultations throughout the state about the future of QuAC as part of the organisation’s strategic planning process, Black said.
What the end of the trial means for participants
The Queensland AIDS Council has urged participants on the QPrEPd trial to see their trial site doctor or nursing staff for a final visit by November 16 and be off all trial medications by November 30.
At the final visit, trial participants will:
- Have a final STI screen, renal function test and be transitioned off the trial.
- Be asked to complete the final online exit survey.
- Be provided with an opportunity to discuss options for remaining on PrEP and how to safely stop taking PrEP if they choose to do so.
Anyone having problems in the future accessing PrEP can contact QuAC on 3017 1777 or visit the ComePrEPd website for a list of PrEP prescribers and pharmacies.