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Start treatment early
Victoria’s HIV/AIDS organisations are urging HIV-positive people to start antiretroviral treatment early as research shows it can lead to healthier lives and reduce the chance of transmission. But access to affordable treatment remains an issue as current regulations restrict subsidised medication to certain HIV-positive people.
Living Positive Victoria has encouraged people living with HIV to start antiretroviral treatment (ART) early for their HIV infection and has been backed by the Victorian AIDS Council.
The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which first identified AIDS in 1981, recently said in a statement that providing ART to HIV-positive people to improve their health must always be the first priority.
Living Positive Victoria president Sam Venning (pictured) said they would support anyone living with HIV considering early treatment.
“HIV treatments are more effective, have fewer side effects and are easier to take than ever before and their is growing evidence that not only do these treatments support and protect and individuals immune system, they can significantly decrease the forward transmission of HIV,” Venning said.
“We will support anyone living with HIV who is willing to start treatment early to understand the importance of adherence to treatment, potential side effects but also the health and preventative benefits of early HIV treatment.”
ART medication is subsidised under the federal government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Under the PBS, ART can cost eligible Medicare cardholders about $18 a month on average but without the government subsidy, the same medication costs about $1,038.
Generic medications can be imported from other countries such as Canada for about $150 a month.
To be eligible for treatment on the PBS, an HIV-positive person needs to have a CD4 T cell count lower than 500.
CD4 T cells are a type of white blood cell which help fight infection and disease in the human body; healthy adults have between 600 to 1,200 CD4 cells in their blood.
Living Positive wants to increase HIV medication uptake from current levels of about 50 per cent to 90 per cent.
Mike Williams, president of the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre, said they fully supported early treatment.
“Starting treatments earlier is vital to ultimately ending HIV because, as well as having important health benefits for positive people, treatments have a preventive effect,” Williams said. “We urge the Australian Society of HIV Medicine to amend its HIV treatment guidelines, and for the Commonwealth government to change the PBS rules, to allow people with higher CD4 counts to receive treatments where they so desire them.”
The latest figures showed the Federal Government spent over $168 million subsidising ART on the PBS between 2009-10.