PLANS to introduce GST to overseas online purchases could affect Australians currently importing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV.

During this week’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, an agreement was made between state and territory leaders as well as the Prime Minister to charge GST on online purchases under $1000.

[showads ad=MREC]Victorian AIDS Council acting chief executive Johann Ruth believes this would financially harm those importing PrEP to use as HIV prevention, and has called for PrEP to be exempted from any such plans.

“This decision could have unintended health consequences if applied to medications, especially PrEP and could contribute to an increase in HIV notifications in Australia,” Ruth said.

The news comes just as a new Melbourne study is set to begin, which will look at gay men who use antiretroviral drugs as a form of HIV prevention which in turn could help build a case to have them subsidised in Australia under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Men who have sex with men will be interviewed as part of the Off Label study, where they will be asked about their experiences importing and accessing pills such as Truvada to use as PrEP for HIV prevention.

The head of Off Label, Dean Murphy, said it can be a lengthy process accessing PrEP and the study may help to highlight these issues.

“I’m basically trying to find out what the differences are between importing PrEP from overseas and accessing it privately in Australia,” Murphy told the Star Observer.

“I have a particular concern around people not being able to access it. It’s out of many people’s price range and it’s an unfortunate situation that we would like to resolve.”

Truvada is currently not listed on the PBS as a form of PrEP, nor has it been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) — the country’s peak regulatory body for medicines and blood products.

Although US pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences recently began the application process to have Truvada as PrEP approved by the TGA, the first step required before a PBS listing, buying a script at the pharmacy can cost around $900.

Many Truvada users import the drug from overseas, which costs roughly $146 for a three-month prescription. If it were to be listed on the PBS and bought locally, this price would drop to $38.80 per script.

“Hopefully it will be useful in building a case to have it listed [on the PBS],” Murphy said.

“I’m interested in seeing how people feel about having to access PrEP this way.”

Collingwood resident Chris Williams imports PrEP from overseas.

“I consider myself an organised person, so based on my lifestyle accessing PrEP isn’t too difficult,” he told the Star Observer.

“I can imagine for some people it could be a challenge though. Not everyone is in that financial position.”

Williams believes getting PrEP listed on the PBS will help reach the Australian government’s goal to have zero new HIV transmissions by 2020.

“If there is recognition from the government that it’s expensive and difficult, it would help,” he said.

“If it was on the PBS, it would be easier, faster, and more efficient.”

Murphy hopes the study will make clear the ways that PrEP is accessed and used around Melbourne.

“Some people are taking PrEP based on a lot of self-initiative, and we hope that most are doing it in conjunction with doctors,” he said.

“When you order scripts from overseas it can take between one and three weeks, so there is potential for people to be left without drugs if they aren’t constantly organised.”

Should the Gilead’s TGA application be successful, it will encourage more doctors to prescribe the pill as a form of PrEP.

Off Label has just commenced. If you are interested in taking part contact Dean Murphy at d.murphy@unsw.edu.au

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