Most HIV transmissions occur among gay men and other men who have sex with men in Australia. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is expected to make a substantial difference to the epidemic and is another strategy that can be employed to reduce risk of HIV infection.
So what is PrEP and how effective is it?
PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a type of medication called Truvada that is already used in Australia to treat HIV. Truvada has been shown to be extremely effective as PrEP at reducing HIV transmission among men who have sex with men.
It is TGA approved?
Recently, the decision was made by the Pharmaceutical Advisory Committee (PBAC) to not recommend the funding of Truvada™ for use as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Although this is disappointing news, there are still ways of accessing PrEP. Currently, people can access the medication through clinical trials (not currently available in WA) or by personally importing generic versions of the medication.
What’s an off-Label prescription?
In the absence of readily available Truvada for PrEP in WA, many guys are choosing to purchase it from overseas. This is easily done once you have a prescription provided by a doctor where they request the drug “off-label” i.e. for a use that the TGA doesn’t currently approve it for.
How do I get a PrEP prescription?
There are three places in Perth you can go to obtain a PrEP prescription:
How often do I take PrEP?
Adherence (how often you take your meds), is a massive factor in how effective the pill is. The current recommendation is to take PrEP daily – any less and you may not be protected.
Are there side-effects? I’ve heard there’s side effects!
Tenofovir, one of the drugs used in Truvada, has been linked to a number of common temporary side effects including vomiting and diarrhoea and in rare cases acute kidney damage. Getting a prescription from a doctor that is knowledgeable about PrEP is paramount in ensuring you are provided with the right precautions, maintain a steady supply of Truvada and undergo important monitoring for kidney dysfunction. If you are HIV positive without knowing, and were to commence PrEP assuming you were negative, you run the risk of developing resistance to drugs used in Truvada which could limit your HIV treatment options. This is why HIV testing prior to commencing PrEP is so important.
What about other STIs?
Condoms are still a big part of preventing HIV infection, as well as other STIs such as gonorrhoea and syphilis (which PrEP can’t protect you against). If you are having sex without condoms you must remember to have a sexual health screen every three to six months.
If you think PrEP would work for you, it’s easier to get than you think, and doesn’t cost as much as you would expect.
PrEP Access Now: http://www.prepaccessnow.com.au/
PrEP'd For Change: Public facebook page