An estimated one in eight people living with HIV are expected to benefit from the listing of the HIV treatment Sculptra on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Courses of the injectable drug, used to treat severe facial wasting (lipoatrophy) associated with antiretroviral therapy, will now be reimbursed by the Government. Patients will also be eligible for repeat treatments every two years.
HIV advocacy groups have welcomed the decision.
“A survey of men living with HIV revealed more than 55 percent of those with facial lipoatrophy believed others could tell their HIV status just by looking at them,” a plastic surgeon from Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, Brett Archer said.
Positive Life NSW’s CEO Rob Lake said, “Facial wasting can feel like being ‘marked’. This therapy can help boost self-confidence and help counter the social isolation that can weigh so heavily.
“In NSW, may people with HIV and facial wasting have experienced the benefits of this therapy. Listing makes it affordable and ensures those who need it will get access.”

ACON’s CEO Stevie Clayton also welcomed the move, “treating the condition has proven to be extremely effective in helping overcome the anxiety and social isolation that many people with facial lipoatrophy experience,” she said.

“However, the treatment is expensive and so having Sculptra added to the PBS is extremely welcome news, especially for peole whose economic circumstances would otherwise prevent them from accessing the treatment.”
The National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS’ spokesman Peter Canavan reiterated, “For these people, facial lipoatrophy isn’t just a cosmetic issue. Changes in appearance can cause significant loss of self-esteem as well as providing a very public indication of your HIV positive status.”
One positive man, Phil, who has been living with lipoatrophy explained, “When HIV writes itself across your face in the form of lipoatrophy, it’s like being marked as HIV positive, forcing you to disclose this fact to the rest of the world.
“Often the negative feelings associated with living with HIV are accentuated by the changes in your face.”
Another plastic surgeon specialising in facial aesthetic surgery, Dr Steven Liew, said the effects of Sculptra were crucial.
“Low self-esteem, depression, feelings of loss of control, fear of stigmatisation and social isolation can result from lipoatrophy to such an extent that a person may become less adherent to their HIV treatment, or even discontinue their treatment altogether.”
One positive man, who asked not to be named, has been on a two month trial of the facial sculpting drug.
“I didn’t notice much of a difference looking in the mirror. The most noticeable difference was the feedback from other people,” he said.
“Continuous comments such as ‘you look amazing’ or ‘you look fresher than normal’ surprised me. Knowing that many who are HIV positive cannot necessarily afford this treatment, I am very pleased to hear this is now available.”
The treatments involve an injection of poly-l-lactic particles, which stimulate collagen production to restore fullness.
Side effects are mostly injection-related, including redness, bruising and swelling around the treated area.
Sculptra is now available through a limited number of physicians who have attended training courses to administer the drug.

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