HIV prevention medication PrEP has been added to the World Health Organisation’s list of “essential medicines”.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known by brand name Truvada, is a once-daily pill that has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission in people at high risk, in conjunction with other prevention strategies including condoms.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced this week that PrEP was one of 55 drugs added to their “Model list of essential medicines” and “deemed essential for addressing the most important public health needs”.
“Making sure all people can access the medicines they need, when and where they need them, is vital to countries’ progress towards universal health coverage,” Dr Marie-Paule Kieny from the WHO said.
The WHO’s list of essential medicines was launched in 1977 to coincide with the endorsement of universal healthcare by a coalition of governments at the time, and it’s revised every two years. Many countries use the list to guide decisions about the availability of medicines.
In Australia, PrEP is not available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and costs hundreds of dollars, putting it out of reach of many at-risk men.
Approximately 10,000 people are currently receiving free PrEP medication through trials being run by Australian state and territory governments, including in Queensland.
An application to get it listed on the PBS – and reduce the cost of the pills to no more than $38.80 – was rejected by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) last August, with the committee saying the cost of making PrEP available to all at-risk people was too high.
But that may change at the next PBAC meeting next month when two applications to get PrEP onto the PBS will be considered by the committee.
“PrEP can prevent thousands of HIV transmissions in the years ahead, but only if it’s affordable and available to those who need it,” Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO Darryl O’Donnell said following the federal budget last month.
“PrEP is critical to effectively ending new HIV transmission by 2020. Alongside new HIV testing technology, continued safe sex and an enduring commitment to a community-led HIV response, we can end this epidemic.”