World AIDS Day: Expanded Medicare access to fight HIV in Australia

greg hunt health minister world aids day
Photo: ABC News/YouTube

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced all Australians with HIV will get access to their life-saving antiretroviral medicine, regardless of their Medicare eligibility.

Hunt announced the initiative this morning at a virtual parliamentary breakfast to mark World AIDS Day today.

“Today, more than 28,000 Australians are living with HIV. It is very pleasing that most have a suppressed viral load,” Hunt said.

“That means they’re healthy and unlikely to pass on the virus to anyone else.”

Hunt said the federal government is working on agreements with states and territories to give people from overseas who have HIV access to Medicare.

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s the smart thing to do,” he said.

“It’s about protecting them and it’s about protecting the rest of the community.”

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) applauded the initiative as a “essential measure” in Australia’s efforts to eliminate HIV.

“For too long, too many people in Australia who aren’t eligible for Medicare struggled to afford the medicine needed to keep them healthy,” CEO Darryl O’Donnell said.

“This act of leadership will give access to antiretroviral medicine to everyone in Australia who needs it.

“This is more than a question of treatment. It is also a question of prevention, because a person with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV.”

O’Donnell said the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) had led advocacy for the initiative.

The Commonwealth and all State and Territories have signed on through Australia’s eighth National HIV Strategy.

“This will close an important gap in the Australian HIV response,” O’Donnell said.

“It allows us to make further progress in treating and preventing HIV, and ultimately, in ending transmission.”

Australia has goal to eliminate HIV transmission by 2022

During the World AIDS Day parliamentary event, Labor’s Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen backed the Medicare extension.

Bowen said Australia must reach its target of elimination of HIV transmission by 2022.

“It’s difficult to say if we’re on track, but everything that can be done must be done,” he said.

“We will not meet the target of elimination of HIV community transmission by 2022 unless we eliminate it in our Indigenous communities.

“Within these communities, diagnosis rates are on the rise, and are double those of non-Indigenous Australians.

“We can [reach the 2022 goal], and I think the COVID crisis reminds us of what’s possible when Australians turn their minds to something and work together.”

PBS listing gives Australians with HIV more treatment options

From today, more Australians with HIV will also get access to antiretroviral medicine Dovato, a two-drug, once-daily pill for HIV.

“The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) will expand access to Dovato [to] people living with HIV who’ve already used antiretroviral therapy,” Greg Hunt said.

“Previously this medicine was only available on the PBS for people newly diagnosed with HIV who had not had treatment.

“The expanded listing for the once-daily treatment gives people with HIV more treatment options.”

Without the PBS subsidy, the medication could cost them more than $8,500 per year. However the drug will now cost as little as $6.60 for concession card holders.

Read more: Queensland vigils for World AIDS Day 2020 to go ahead

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