POLITICIANS and advocates have called on the Victorian Government to fund and expand the clinical trial of the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

On World AIDS Day earlier this month, a similar trial in NSW was expanded to make PrEP available to 3700 people, while the Victorian trial at the Alfred Hospital is currently operating for only 115 people.

Shadow Health Minister Mary Wooldridge believes Victoria is significantly behind NSW and has called on the government to step up and expand the trial to include over 2000 Victorians.

“I just think that Victoria is behind because NSW has taken the initiative to significantly expand their PrEP trials,” she told the Star Observer.

“We need the same in Victoria… there are six to seven people with new HIV diagnoses every week and we need to make sure we can change that.

“What it takes is leadership from the Premier and commitment from the Minister [for Health] and that’s what we need – financial commitment.”

Truvada — a PrEP drug — is currently awaiting approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), forcing many gay men to import the HIV prevention drug from overseas.

In an address to Victorian Parliament, Wooldridge said PrEP had the power to significantly reduce the rate of new HIV transmissions.

“The fact is there are as many as 2000 Victorians who are eligible and willing to use PrEP, and it is estimated that would divert about 160 new HIV diagnoses in the first year,” she said.

“The target is to reduce the 320 new diagnoses that occur each year… this has been a stubborn number that has not shifted, and PrEP could be the game changer.

“The fact is that the Victorian government is not taking ownership in addressing this issue.”

On World AIDS Day in Victoria, Health Minister Jill Hennessy announced two new initiatives: new guidelines for some GPs to prescribe PrEP off-label to at-risk patients, and a formal commitment to reaching zero new HIV infections by 2020.

A spokesperson for Hennessy said the government would continue to advocate in favour of getting PrEP subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) to make it readily available and easily accessible.

“The government is currently exploring a range of options to improve access to PrEP in Victoria and will continue to lobby the Commonwealth Government to list PrEP on the PBS,” she said.

“The government is also funding the Victorian PrEP Demonstration Project at the Alfred Hospital which offers PrEP to people at highest risk of HIV infection… the study involves 115 people and is already delivering quite positive results.”

JOY 94.9 presenter and HIV advocate Dean Beck, who came out as HIV positive earlier this year, said expanding the Victorian trial may only be a stop gap but one that was needed.

“I think it’s something that is desperately needed, it saves lives, and it’s recently been approved by South Africa as well as France and the United States,” he told the Star Observer.

“Yet again Australia is left behind with supposedly the world’s best health system and second rate leadership.

“Let’s face it – this is going to be a stop gap until it’s approved by the TGA and it’s only going to be an interim thing, so why don’t they just get it done.”

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