THE creation and launch of an Australian first PrEP trial has been the proudest moment of NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s career.

The EPIC (Expanded PrEP Implementation in Community) trial was announced on World AIDS Day in December last year. It will include 3700 people on a trial of the HIV preventative treatment PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). Currently, 1000 men are signed up to the trial, which is expected to bring down the new diagnoses of HIV by about 50 per cent in the next two years.

While Truvada was recently approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to be used for PrEP, it is yet to be included on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes (PBS), making a prescription too costly for many men.

Skinner was speaking at an event celebrating the 1000th enrolment to EPIC on Friday at Oxford Street’s aTEST rapid HIV testing clinic when she proclaimed the rolling out of the unprecedented trial was one of her greatest career successes.

“It would be one of my most proudest achievements of my 21 years in health and politics,” she said.

“I just think this is so transforming, it (HIV) has been a terribly debilitating disease and if we can prevent its transmission, that’ll be fabulous.

“Removing the fear (in sex) is important. People have a right to a life that’s not absolutely obsessed with the fear of their behaviour.”

The Minister said she was not only proud to have been made a “gay icon” by the NSW community but also proud to be both a national and international leader in NSW’s response to HIV.

“We are so far ahead of anywhere, it’s just amazing. What we’re doing is based on science, it’s rigorous, it’s involving all the partners and that’s why it works,” she said.

(L-R) NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, Kirby Institute's Professor Andrew Gurlich, Tom Spillane, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, ACON CEO Nicholas Parkhill, ACON President Justin Koonin

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, Kirby Institute’s Professor Andrew Gurlich, Tom Spillane, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, ACON CEO Nicholas Parkhill and ACON President Justin Koonin at the press conference.

Partners in the trial include ACON, Postive Life NSW and the Kirby Institute.

Professor Andrew Grulich, Head of HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute UNSW, agreed the EPIC trial was an unprecedented global achievement.

“It (EPIC) is not about working out whether PrEP works or not. The last year or two has provided definitive evidence that for gay and bisexual men in particular, the treatment taken daily is virtually 100 per cent effective in taking HIV,” he said.

“EPIC NSW is trying to document by how much and by how quickly we can drive HIV towards virtual elimination in the community.

“EPIC NSW is globally unique in a high degree of targeting and a high degree of speed. What we’re trying to do is to basically quickly saturate those communities in which HIV transmissions occur.”

Guests at Friday’s event also heard from Tom Spillane, an Irish-born Sydney man who signed up for the trial and had been taking PrEP for several weeks.

“PrEP just takes away so much of the stress and anxiety that was previously associated with the sex that I wanted to have but felt afraid to,” he said.

“It’s a minimal disruption to my life. I take it in the mornings and happily I don’t have any side-effects. It’s given me a sense of relief and control, and I find myself feeling far less scared about sex.”

 

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