THE Victorian Government has announced it will expand the state’s current PrEP trial and give up to 2600 people access to the HIV prevention pill.
The new study, PrEPX, is expected to reduce new HIV notifications in Victoria by up to 30 per cent by averting an estimated 77 new HIV diagnoses over the course of 12 months.
The news comes after an adviser for Health Minister Jill Hennessy met with the PrEPAccessNow team earlier this month to discuss a range of issues around PrEP, following reports of advocates calling on the Victorian Government to fund and expand the clinical trial.
Hennessy believes today’s announcement will help the government reach its goal of zero new HIV transmissions by 2020.
“While the Federal Government continues to stall, we’re taking action to ensure thousands of Victorians can access PrEP safely and when they need it,” she said.
“We will continue to work hard to reduce stigma and discrimination, and promote diversity so Victorians can access the HIV prevention, treatment, and care services they need.”
In Australia, Truvada — a PrEP drug — is still awaiting approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. A decision is not expected to occur until the end of 2017 and if approved, it would then need to go through the process of being listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
The delays have forced many gay men to import the HIV prevention drug from overseas in the meantime.
PrEP has been shown to be over 94 per cent effective at preventing HIV infection when taken daily, and has been licensed for use in the US since 2013. France is the second country to have approved PrEP, doing so late 2015.
Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) chief executive Simon Ruth believes PrEP is what will get Australia to its goal of ending new HIV transmissions.
“Biomedical prevention such as PrEP is what’s going to get us to our goal,” he told the Star Observer.
“Condoms have been fantastic and they will remain on the frontline in preventing HIV, but PrEP is what’s going to fill the gap, particularly for people who are unable to use condoms regularly.
“All the evidence is in and there’s no debate about whether PrEP works… this is a very exciting day for men who have sex with men in Victoria.”
VAC is a partner in the new PrEPX trial and made a financial contribution to assist with the expansion.
“We’re incredibly excited about the expansion of the trial, the VAC made a financial contribution to get this off the ground because we know how important it is,” Ruth said.
“It’s something we’ve been campaigning for for two years and we’re thankful to the Andrews Government for their commitment to setting up this trial.
“We’ve seen amazing results in cities like San Francisco where HIV rates are dropping dramatically, so we’re excited that Victoria is joining other cities like this.”
Melbourne recently became Australia’s first Fast-Track City, involving a commitment to meeting the joint UN goal of 90-90-90 by 2022.
This means that 90 per cent of HIV-positive people are aware of their status and on treatment, and 90 per cent of those on treatment have an undetectable viral load.
Victoria’s expanded trial will be a joint partnership between the Victorian Government, Alfred Health, the Burnet Institute, and VAC.