The Australian Government Minister for Health has announced that from April 1, 2018, PrEP will be listed on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS). In this game-changing announcement, PrEP is expected to be accessed by around 32,000 people most at risk of HIV per year — driving new HIV infections down across Australia.
Today’s announcement means that access to PrEP is now much easier and more affordable for most people at risk of acquiring HIV in Australia.
Having PrEP on the PBS means that medicine ordinarily costing around $2,500 per year to buy, can now be accessed for less than $40 per month, and accessed via any Australian pharmacy from April 1 this year.
What is PrEP?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis — known as PrEP — is a highly effective HIV prevention medication. Taken by HIV negative people at risk of acquiring HIV, this prevention tool has already been taken up by an estimated 14,000 people across the country.
Introducing PrEP – the little blue pill making a big impact provides more information about PrEP, what’s involved to use it and the benefits for individuals and community.
Experts agree, PrEP reduces HIV risk
On February 9 this year, PrEP was successful in being recommended by the PBAC for listing on the PBS. The PBAC is an independent expert body appointed by the Australian Government. Its reason for recommending PrEP to be on the PBS (the list of government subsidised medicines) is reported as:
“The PBAC recommended the listing of tenofovir with emtricitabine for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in certain patients at medium to high risk of HIV infection. The PBAC was satisfied that tenofovir with emtricitabine provides, for some patients, a significant reduction in the risk of sexually-acquired HIV, in combination with other safe sex practices, compared with safe sex practices alone. The PBAC’s recommendation for listing was based on, among other matters, its assessment of the cost-effectiveness of PrEP based on the model developed by the Kirby Institute.”
When, how and where will subsidised PrEP be available?
The PBS listing of PrEP takes effect from April 1, 2018. This means that anyone who has a script for PrEP from a GP will be able to buy it in Australian pharmacies from April 1, 2018.
While all Australian pharmacies will be able to dispense PrEP, some may need to order the medication which may take a few days to arrive.
“…anyone who has a script for PrEP from a GP will be able to buy it in Australian pharmacies from April 1, 2018.”
Any GP in Australia is able to prescribe PrEP, but some might not know about it just yet. You can contact your local HIV/AIDS organisation or community groups such as PrEP’D For Change and PAN for support and advice on accessing PrEP.
GP’s will be able to prescribe up to three months’ supply of PrEP at a time through the PBS. Each script will include two repeats which can be dispensed each month from any Australian pharmacy. People using PrEP are required to revisit a GP for comprehensive sexual health tests before obtaining the next script for another three months’ supply of PrEP.
How much will PrEP cost?
For most Australians who eligible for Medicare, the cost of PrEP will be no more than $39.50 per month. This cost is the current maximum PBS co-payment fee paid at the pharmacy when collecting PrEP. This cost is the same for many other subsidised medications accessed via the PBS.
“…the cost of PrEP will be no more than $39.50 per month”
For concessional patients (Health Care Card or Pensioner Concession Card holders) the cost will be no more than $6.40 per month.
What to do now?
What does this news mean for HIV negative people not currently using PrEP?
The exciting news is that no matter where you live in Australia, HIV negative people who are eligible for PrEP can visit their GP and access this HIV prevention option — nationally.
Previously, PrEP has largely been available through clinical studies or by personal importation. The availability of affordable PrEP on the PBS is game changing news.
Once someone has consulted with a GP and obtained a script for PrEP, they will be able to purchase it at a subsidised price in Australian pharmacies from April 1, 2018.
Alternatively, anyone in Australia with a valid script from a GP can also import PrEP from overseas via an online pharmacy. This currently costs upwards from around $20 per month, which may be a useful option for some people in Australia who do not have access to Medicare, and as such, cannot benefit from the PBS.
Personal importation of pharmaceutical products by anyone in Australia is made possible by the Personal Importation Scheme from the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Other HIV prevention strategies
If you’re HIV negative and not currently using PrEP, it’s important to employ an effective HIV prevention strategy, whether that be using condoms and lube or knowing your HIV positive sexual partners have an undetectable viral load.
There is also post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) which can help protect anyone who might have recently been exposed to HIV. PEP can be accessed from sexual health clinics or emergency departments and must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV. More information is available in PEP: Protecting you against HIV when you need it.
It’s also recommended to get tested for HIV and other STIs at least every three to six months.
What does this news mean for people currently using PrEP?
People already using PrEP should continue taking PrEP every day as advised and consult with their PrEP prescriber about the recommended course of action at their next appointment.
Clinical studies in some states and territories across Australia may be approaching their completion dates soon. For people coming to the end of their participation in a study, this means needing to transition from obtaining PrEP from the study, to obtaining PrEP from any local pharmacy with a valid prescription from a GP.
Join Emen8’s Facebook Page to stay up to date with news and announcements about PrEP access options as they unfold.
“People already using PrEP should continue taking PrEP every day as advised and consult with their PrEP prescriber about the recommended course of action at their next appointment.”
People currently importing PrEP from overseas can continue to obtain PrEP in this manner. Anyone with Medicare who is currently importing PrEP can choose to access it under the new PBS arrangements from April 1 in any pharmacy across Australia.
How to get PrEP
Wherever you’re based in Australia, PrEP access options are available to you.