THE expansion of a trial to make PrEP available to 3700 people in NSW is expected to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 50 per cent or more in its first two years and “holds the power to change the face of HIV in Australia”, according to experts.

 In a video message aired at the launch of the Expanded PrEP Implementation in Communities (EPIC-NSW) trial, Professor David Cooper — Kirby Institute director and principal investigator of the trial — said it was “epic in its scope”, will be rolled out quickly and should be underway by Mardi Gras 2016 (late February/early March).

At a multi-partisan event at Customs House in Sydney this morning, state Health Minster Jillian Skinner said announcing EPIC-NSW — led by the Kirby Institute in conjunction with a number of public health organisations — was one of the proudest moments of her career.

“I’d put the commitment that we’ve made… in partnership I stress, in this strategy and one of my top priorities and one that I’ll be most proud of until my dying day,” she said.

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(L-R) ACON chief executive Nicolas Parkhill, NSW Nationals MP Trevor Khan, NSW Labor MP Penny Sharpe, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, NSW Liberal MP Don Harwin and ACON president Justin Koonin at the launch of the NSW HIV Strategy 2016-2020 at Customs House in Sydney.

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis which is a method of antiretroviral treatment taken by HIV negative people to prevent HIV transmission. Studies around the world, including in San Francisco, UK and France, have shown it can reduce the rate of new HIV transmissions by up to 90 per cent.

The trial will be available to those at high risk of contracting HIV, mainly gay and bisexual men, and has the potential to not only prevent 150 new HIV diagnoses in these men over a one-year period but to send a message to other states and the Federal Government to act faster to get PrEP to Australia.

Currently the PrEP drug, Truvada, is awaiting approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and then further approval to be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes (PBS) which could be years away.

Cooper said “success has many parents” and credited the collaboration of the Kirby Institute, ACON, ASHM (Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Sexual Health Medicine) and Positive Life NSW with helping to have the trial expanded.

ACON chief executive Nicolas Parkhill believes the trial allows NSW to start to measure the impact PrEP will have as a prevention tool.

“That’s why I think it’s going to be quite fascinating the impact it has for our community. This is a huge, huge win,” he said.

“I think the whole community should celebrate this. These wins don’t come along often… so when we get government and clinicians working together, it’s something we should all celebrate.”

JK at WAD Launch 1 Dec 15 (4)(1)

ACON president Justin Koonin at the World AIDS Day 2015 Sydney event where it was announcement PrEP would become available to 3700 people in NSW by Mardi Gras 2016.

ACON president Justin Koonin is hopeful the Federal Government will take notice of the NSW Government’s commitment to introducing PrEP into the community.

“This is will have dramatically positive health outcomes,” he said.

Parkhill added: “If the Federal Government doesn’t take notice, then other states and territories should take notice. NSW government has shown leadership by presenting a policy workaround with a blockage that exists from the Federal Government”.

“There’s no stopping other states from following NSW’s lead… so while it’s important that regulation gets unlocked from the Federal Government there are policy workarounds to this solution that leadership needs to be shown at the state level.”

World AIDS Day was also a launchpad for the NSW Government to reveal its NSW HIV Strategy 2016-2020. Along with EPIC-NSW, the strategy features a plan to implement a pilot program of dried blood spot self-sampling, a simple test to allow people to take their own samples for HIV testing without the need to visit a clinic.

The strategy also highlights the release of new resources under the NSW HIV Support Program to support GPs who have limited experience in HIV and their patients at the critical time when a new diagnosis of HIV is made.

ACON also announced a new HIV testing media campaign called Test Often and will feature the personal stories of 11 men from different cultural backgrounds including a trans and Aboriginal man.

Test Often Campaign Portraits 1

Koonin said the campaign forms part of ACON’s work under the new HIV Strategy and is looking forward to working with the NSW Government, clinicians, researchers and community partners to implement the strategy and end HIV.

“Our Ending HIV initiative has made a significant contribution to efforts to end HIV transmission in NSW by 2020,” he said.

“The most recent data from NSW Health shows that HIV diagnoses so far in 2015 are the lowest they’ve been since the same period in 2010.

“Also, more gay men are testing for HIV than ever before with our a[TEST] community testing facilities in Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Newtown proving extremely popular with men in our community.”

For more information on ACON’sTest More campaign, click here

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