The cost of PrEP will be slashed from April 1, after the HIV prevention medication is finally listed and subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a once-daily pill that has been found to be up to 99% effective at reducing the risk of HIV transmission in HIV-negative people, in conjunction with other safe sex measures.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt said the medication “will now be a key component in our comprehensive commitment in the fight against HIV.”
“PrEP is a medical innovation that will save Australian lives and the decision to list it is one of the most significant advancements in HIV transmission Australia has ever seen,” Mr Hunt said on Wednesday.
Eligible Australians will soon be able to receive a three month PrEP prescription and a sexual health check each time they visit their GP.
“The $180 million listing means up to 32,000 patients each year will pay a maximum of only $39.50 per script, with concessional patients paying just $6.40,” he said.
“Without subsidy patients would pay $2,496 per year for this medicine.”
Access to PrEP will not only benefit gay and bisexual men but will also drive down rates of HIV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, migrant communities and other population groups which have seen increased transmission rates over recent years, Mr Hunt said.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO Darryl O’Donnell said the subsidy for PrEP will “drive a substantial reduction in transmission and allow us to turbo-charge the Australian HIV response.”
“This medicine is astoundingly effective and the Australian Government is to be congratulated for being one of the world’s first to make it available through public subsidy,” he said.
“PrEP is an essential piece of the puzzle, but to drive HIV to very low levels, we will need co-ordinated leadership and additional resources for the Australian HIV response.
“We’ll need to ensure all those who can benefit from PrEP know of its availability and can consider whether this prevention tool is right for them.”
Around 10,000 Australians are currently receiving free PrEP through trials being run by state governments, including in Queensland, but without the PBS subsidy the cost of the medication has put it out of reach of many men not on a trial.
In February, pre-exposure prophylaxis was recommended for listing on the PBS by the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), which found that PrEP significantly reduces the risk of sexually-acquired HIV.
The Committee emphasised that PrEP should form part of a comprehensive approach to sexual health and complement other safe-sex practices.
Last year the World Health Organisation declared PrEP to be an “essential medicine”.
More to come