Australia’s peak HIV organisation says Australia should allow the use of a common HIV treatment drug in HIV-negative people to protect them from contracting the virus.

An advisory panel to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended the use of Truvada for people at a high risk of exposure to HIV. The FDA is expected to accept the advice this week.

It’s expected the drug would be used for the partners of HIV-positive people.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive officer Rob Lake has called on the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration to immediately start the drug’s licensing process and begin research trials in Australia.

“The approval of the use of Truvada for high-risk HIV-negative people is an extremely significant development in the prevention of HIV worldwide and provides a significant new tool to add to condom use and regular testing,” Lake said.

“Recent studies show Truvada reduces the risk of HIV infection in both gay men and the HIV-negative heterosexual partners of people who are HIV-positive by up to 73 percent.

“If, as expected, the expert recommendation leads to approval by the FDA in America, it could change the lives of people living with a high risk of HIV infection.”

Lake said the use of Truvada could decrease Australia’s HIV infection rate.

“Health authorities here should ensure that Australians do not miss out on the same opportunity to reduce infection risk,” he said.
The call comes as the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) starts a national advertising campaign to encourage people living with HIV to speak to their doctor about starting treatment early.

The NAPWA campaign is backed by research and a recent change in US HIV treatment guidelines which now recommend treatment for all people with HIV to improve patients’ health as well as to drive down transmission rates.Truvada is currently used to treat HIV infection. Listed side effects include headaches, abnormal skin sensations and nausea.

Cairns Base Hospital director of sexual health Dr Darren Russell, however, told the Star Observer Truvada’s side effects are generally minimal.

“There are very few side effects. The only side effect that potentially could be an issue could be kidney problems, but even that is uncommon, so it’s a fairly safe and clean drug,” he said.

Russell said while the research has shown Truvada can help prevent HIV transmission, in practice there are still barriers to accessing the drug.

Without government subsidy, the preventative would cost up to $800 a month.

“I think we’re all still trying to figure out who would benefit from it and how they would pay for it,” Russell said.

“In Australia, only someone who has got HIV is able to access treatment on the PBS [Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme], so any move to use the drug as a prevention tool, the PBS doesn’t currently allow for that.”

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