Women leading the Border’s role in HIV studies welcome likely PBS listing of PrEP

LOOKING AHEAD: Catherine Orr and Alison Kincaid run studies on each side of the Border providing access to PrEP, medication proven to reduce HIV transmission rates. It could soon be listed on the PBS. Picture: KYLIE ESLER
LOOKING AHEAD: Catherine Orr and Alison Kincaid run studies on each side of the Border providing access to PrEP, medication proven to reduce HIV transmission rates. It could soon be listed on the PBS. Picture: KYLIE ESLER

The leaders of trials reducing HIV rates in the region have welcomed news the game-changing medication could soon be affordable for all Australians.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a prevention method in which at-risk people take medication called Truvada daily.

Both Victoria and NSW are running studies providing free access to the medication, with Gateway Health’s Catherine Orr and Alison Kincaid at the Murrumbidgee Local Health District Public Health Unit co-ordinating participation on each side of the Border respectively.

Despite Albury being almost a year into the EPIC-NSW study before the Victorian regional counterpart was rolled out, Dr Orr said there was still demand in Wodonga and beyond.

“PrEPX started at the Alfred in Melbourne and it was rolled out in rural sites in early 2017, but previously EPIC had been very generous and had been taking patients from over the Border, which was great,” she said.

“The studies are similar in that we see them every three months and do an STI screen each time.

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“We know if we get people on treatment early and get their viral road to be undetectable, we reduce transmission.”

Dr Orr has 15 patients currently enrolled in the study through Gateway and Ms Kincaid said she was working with 44 people through the Albury Sexual Health Service.

“The feedback we’re getting is it’s a liberating thing for people to know they can take a pill everyday and they’re not going to be infected or unknowingly transmit it to someone else,” she said.

“In the early days we were receiving inquiries from peoeple in Melbourne, because PrEPX was full there.

“Now in NSW we’ve got 8866 people enrolled.

“Since the announcement last week with the recommendation for it to be listed on the PBS, we imagine there will be a transition, but we don’t know how that’s going to happen yet.

“What we’ve been told is to continue to enroll until the study ends in February 2019.”

The Victorian government has also this week announced it will provide another $400,000 to the PrEPX study to extend it by an additional three months to June 30, in a bid to ensure people participating in the trial have uninterrupted access to medication until it’s listed on the PBS.

PrEP was first approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia in 2016 but costs more than $800 a month.

Dr Orr said many Australians were obtaining scripts here and shipping the medication in from overseas, where it was less expensive.

“We would always prefer people are on medication that’s been put through our PBS process because we can guarantee the content and the safety of it,” she said.

“I think once it’s on the PBS there will be huge take-up, particularly with men having sex with men.

“Traditionally they have been really proactive and are very aware of PrEP as a valuable addition to everything else we have to prevent HIV transmission.

“Even with things like Grindr, people have added their PrEP status, so young men are starting to ask older men what it’s about.

“It being on the PBS I think will invite a whole lot of conversation.

“Australia is leading the world on this.”