Major PBS Barrier to HIV Treatment Lifted

National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA)

Media Release Tuesday 1 April 2014

Changes to Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) prescribing rules for HIV drugs, effective from today, will allow all Australians with HIV to start treatment as early as they choose.

This follows a successful submission to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) by the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM), the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), which sought removal of a major regulatory barrier to early HIV treatment.

Previous PBS prescribing rules for HIV drugs meant that some people with HIV have had to delay starting treatment until their immune system declined or clinical symptoms had developed.

This change to the PBS rules is consistent with major advances in HIV treatment and prevention which have demonstrated that starting HIV treatment earlier has important benefits for the health and wellbeing of individuals with HIV and is also very effective in helping prevent transmission of HIV to others.

Awareness campaigns by the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), and the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) are underway to alert people with HIV, their doctors and the community about these important scientific advances and the PBS prescribing changes that will help them to be acted on to maximum effect.

NAPWHA’s public awareness campaign “The Wait is Over” highlights the two main features of today’s modern era of HIV treatment – the role of HIV drugs for treating people with HIV and the role HIV treatment has in helping prevent HIV transmission.

Professor David Cooper, Director of the Kirby Institute in Sydney has welcomed the NAPWHA campaign.  “HIV treatment has a powerful benefit of helping prevent transmission of HIV to others”, Professor Cooper said. “Interim results recently released from the PARTNERS study have confirmed that HIV positive people who are taking HIV treatment successfully have a greatly reduced risk of passing HIV onto their partners. The powerful impact of HIV treatment  in preventing onward HIV transmission should be a significant factor in choosing to commence treatment for many people who wish to do all they can to protect their partners.  This PBS change will allow that to happen more easily”.

A/Prof Edwina Wright, President of ASHM, noted the advantages now available for doctors and their patients. “In this era of HIV clinical management, the individualised, patient-centred approach to health outcomes remains vital. I am delighted that Australian patients are now further empowered to start a treatment conversation, and plan for their own optimal health and wellbeing.’

NAPWHA spokesperson Bill Whittaker said that a key aim of the “Wait is Over” campaign was to inform people with HIV that they can now start HIV treatment as early as they choose.  “As well as emphasising the health benefits of HIV treatment, the campaign also recognises that if someone takes HIV treatment successfully their chance of passing on their HIV to others is greatly reduced.  HIV treatment can potentially help free people with HIV from a huge burden of guilt, blame and anxiety about possibly infecting others.”

“NAPWHA and our membership are committed to ending HIV in Australia, and the continuing leadership of people living with HIV is essential if we are to see more people benefit from these exciting advances in science and public health.”

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