Since April 1, 2018, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) has been available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from any local pharmacy in Australia. That’s great news for people with access to Medicare who can afford it — but not everyone does or can. Nevertheless, there are still ways to get your hands on PrEP for less. We’ve produced this guide to help you figure out everything you need to know about buying PrEP online for personal importation.
In the past few years Australia has seen enormous uptake of PrEP as a biomedical approach to HIV prevention. Through regular use of prescription medicine, HIV negative people have the choice to opt in to a highly convenient and effective strategy that offers round-the-clock HIV prevention combined with a comprehensive program for managing sexual health and STIs.
PrEP on the PBS ordinarily costs no more than $39.50 per month (or $6.40 with a concession) while buying PrEP online costs upwards from around $20 per month. Buying PrEP on the PBS is only feasible for people who have access to Medicare and for people who can afford it. And sometimes it might be tricky to get to a pharmacy, particularly in some rural areas — having PrEP delivered to your door instead could be a convenient option.
“…buying PrEP online costs upwards from around $20 per month”
Importing it is also a way to help people with or without Medicare access affordable PrEP — but it does require forward planning and comes with conditions that need to be adhered to.
Further cost saving options may be available for anyone with a concession, anyone who buys other PBS medicines, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, people without access to Medicare, or anyone who simply can’t afford it. You can find all options available to you in How to buy PrEP – even if you can’t afford it.
Buying PrEP online for personal import
Did you know that anyone in Australia can buy PrEP online for importation into the country whether they have access to Medicare or not? This is made possible by the Personal Importation Scheme from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), part of the Australian Government’s Department of Health.
Using the scheme simply involves having your pills posted to you from overseas. However, getting a prescription (script for short) is an essential step for being able to import PrEP legally.
“Did you know that anyone in Australia can buy PrEP online for importation into the country whether they have access to Medicare or not?”
Of course, using PrEP involves more than just getting a script — the PrEP program involves checking in with a GP every three months for a full sexual health check-up and routine tests. Each time you go, you’ll receive a new script which you can use to buy your next supply of PrEP. And before you get close to running out, it’s best to book in for your next PrEP appointment. Be sure to leave enough time to see your preferred doctor and allow for delivery time when buying online, as it may take up to two weeks or longer for your pills to arrive.
Before importing PrEP, it’s important to understand the Personal Importation Scheme’s rules.
In summary, the scheme allows you to import PrEP when:
- the PrEP you are importing is for your own use; and
- the total quantity of PrEP imported does not exceed three months’ supply in any one shipment; and
- the total quantity of PrEP imported within a 12 month period does not exceed 15 months’ supply of PrEP
Online pharmacies and pricing
There are several online pharmacies providing PrEP to Australia, including some set up by community activists to provide affordable access to PrEP for everyone.
Some popular ones suggested by online PrEP communities are:
Products and prices may vary between pharmacies. Online community group PrEP’D For Change produces a monthly price watch chart for comparing the price of PrEP between online suppliers, as well as between the PBS.
Whichever online pharmacy you choose, you’ll need to provide a scanned copy of your script. The pharmacy uses this to dispense your PrEP and includes it in the parcel they ship to you. This helps Australian Border Force officers ensure you’re adhering to the Personal Importation Scheme’s rules if they inspect your parcel, avoiding any delay in receiving your PrEP.
Buying the right product
PrEP sold online can come in different product names, such as Adco-Emtevir, Ricovir-EM, Tenof EM, Tenvir-EM, or others.
The word ‘PrEP’ might not be on the product label or written on your script. That’s because the term ‘PrEP’ (which stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) refers to the use of medicine as a means to prevent HIV, rather than a particular name or brand of medicine.
Some versions of PrEP sold in Australian pharmacies, as well as online pharmacies, may have slightly different active ingredients, though these differences do not alter the effectiveness of PrEP in any way. Colour, shape and size of pills may also vary. To make sure you’re buying the right product, you can check it contains one of these formulations:
- Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate 300mg and Emtricitabine 200mg
- Tenofovir Disoproxil Maleate 300mg and Emtricitabine 200mg
- Tenofovir Disoproxil Phosphate 291mg and Emtricitabine 200mg
As long as you have a valid script, you can use it to buy any version of PrEP that contains one of the above formulations. Local or online pharmacies can dispense any version, as all formulations are considered to have bio-equivalence, meaning for all intents and purposes, they are the same.
Products containing Tenofovir Alafenamide, Tenofovir by itself, Emtricitabine by itself, or supplementary ingredients (such as Efavirenz, Elvitegravir, Cobicistat or Rilpirivine) are different to PrEP and are not suitable for use as PrEP.
It’s important to note the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) does not regulate medicines available on international websites.
Payment and delivery
Online pharmacy websites will guide you through the payment process. For some, you may be referred to a payment portal. Online pharmacies usually display prices in US dollars, so the payment portal helps you to pay with a credit or debit card in Australian dollars. Electronic funds transfer (EFT) payments may also be accepted.
The price you pay for PrEP bought online can vary from time to time because currency exchange rates may fluctuate.
Delivery is usually by courier, with some pharmacies providing a tracking number to help understand where your parcel is and when you can expect delivery to your door. Delivery times may very between pharmacies — anywhere between five and 10 working days is typical, but may take longer. It’s best to make sure you’re ordering well in advance of running out PrEP to make sure you continue using it without interruption. PrEP cannot offer high levels of protection against HIV if you are not taking it.
Even if you can’t afford to buy PrEP from an online pharmacy, help is at hand. Purchase Assistance Schemes exist to help cover the cost of PrEP, although these schemes do not cover the cost of seeing a doctor or paying for pathology tests.
If you cannot afford to buy PrEP for any reason, you can contact the following organisations for financial assistance:
- Anywhere in Australia: PAN
- Australian Capital Territory: AIDS Action Council of the ACT
- Western Australia: M Clinic
Successful applicants will be provided with a coupon to access a full three months’ supply of PrEP for free, including delivery. A valid prescription is always required.
The coupon scheme has been operated by Green Cross Pharmacy since 2015. Every paid purchase of PrEP from Green Cross Pharmacy contributes towards providing free PrEP coupons for people who cannot afford it.
Help and support
To seek help with starting PrEP, finding a doctor, buying PrEP, seeking financial support or anything else to do with PrEP, online communities have been providing support for people in Australia since 2015. Thousands of members all around the country are able to offer suggestions and share their experiences.
You can also reach out to local HIV/AIDS organisations in your state or territory. See Emen8’s network for details.