VICTORIAN Health Minister Jill Hennessy is in favour of expanding the state’s clinical PrEP trial but needs to find the funding first, according to the team at PrEPaccessNOW (PAN).

Hennessy’s adviser recently met with PAN’s Phillip Joffe to discuss a range of issues around PrEP, including getting the HIV prevention pill approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and then listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

“The minister is very keen for the trial to proceed, but funding is the main issue,” Joffe told the Star Observer.

“There are no moral issues with an extended PrEP trial… it’s more a matter of when and not if it will happen.

“Everybody is in favour of it, the funds just need to be found and allocated.”

The meeting was initiated out of a concern over the lack of news around the clinical trial on World AIDS Day in Victoria, especially after the NSW government used the occasion to announce the expansion of its trial to make PrEP available to 3700 people in the state. The Victorian trial currently only accommodates 115 people.

Joffe said when he discussed having PrEP approved by the TGA, he stressed to Hennessy’s adviser the need for unrestricted access to the drug.

“When TGA and PBS approval were discussed, the dual benefit of PrEP was, also – the prevention of HIV on one hand and the reduction of anxiety around sex on the other,” he said.

“The minister thought this was very important, as it had previously been stressed by other advocates.”

A spokesperson for Hennessy said her team was working to understand the most effective way to use PrEP.

“The Victorian Government recognises that PrEP is an important addition to the strategies we already have to end HIV transmission,” they said.

“To end that the government has been meeting with a range of people from the HIV sector, including a meeting with Mr Phillip Joffe, to discuss with them their idea for how best to achieve this.”

Victorian AIDS Council chief executive Simon Ruth said the minister’s discussions around the PrEP trial with community groups were a positive sign.

“It’s great that our community partners are getting access to the minister’s team, and it’s good that the minister hears the same messages from a diversity of voices,” he told the Star Observer.

“The work that PrEPaccessNOW has done in creating an access scheme has been fantastic, and they’ve become an important voice in this space.

“We understand that it is a particularly tight funding landscape right now, though – a year ago the Federal Government announced $17.7 billion in cuts to Victoria’s health system over 10 years.”

Ruth stressed the major impact expanding the clinical trial would have.

“While we wait for PrEP to go through the TGA approval process and be listed on the PBS, an expanded PrEP trial in Victoria will allow people at risk of HIV to access this vital HIV-prevention technology,” he said.

PAN will now meet with the advisers to the Victorian Premier to emphasise the urgency for PrEP’s approval and the announcement of a plan to make PrEP accessible to all in Victoria.

“We mentioned in the meeting that the community is not going to sit back and wait,” Joffe said.

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