Aids pill a $120m win for Ki­wis

Claims HIV medicine could save tax­payer.

Herald on Sunday - - ON THE TRAIL - By Sarah Har­ris

Apill to pre­vent the spread of Aids could save tax­pay­ers more than $120 mil­lion, says the Aids Foun­da­tion, which is call­ing on politi­cians to prom­ise fund­ing.

Pre-ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis, or PrEP, would cost $2.4m a year to fund for the high­est-risk group of men who have sex with men.

But if new in­fec­tions con­tinue at the same rate, life­time treat­ment for the same group, at $800,000 a per­son, amounts to $127m.

Fund­ing PrEP and in­creas­ing test­ing would help New Zealand reach its tar­get of no new HIV trans­mis­sions by 2025, foun­da­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Ja­son My­ers said.

It pro­tects the in­di­vid­u­als who take the pill and their fu­ture sex­ual part­ners.

“Not only does an HIV di­ag­no­sis have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact to the in­di­vid­ual but it’s a sig­nif­i­cant bur­den on the New Zealand health sys­tem.”

My­ers said to make a dif­fer­ence it would only need to be funded for about 4000 men who are very sex­u­ally ac­tive. HIV has a win­dow pe­riod of four to 12 weeks where a per­son can be in­fected with HIV and be very in­fec­tious but still test HIV neg­a­tive.

Last year, 244 peo­ple were di­ag­nosed with HIV, the high­est recorded num­ber in New Zealand since records be­gan in 1985.

Welling­ton man Vaughan Me­ne­ses, 50, con­tracted HIV 13 years ago but wasn’t given treat­ment un­til he ended up in hospi­tal with pneu­mo­nia.

These days, he takes anti-retro­vi­ral ther­apy and his level of the virus is un­de­tectable. “No one re­ally wants to rush out and get them­selves a chronic ill­ness if they can avoid it.

“PrEP means you’re pro­tected all the time. The fact it is avail­able but not funded is ridicu­lous.”

Over­seas, New South Wales Health has 6000 peo­ple on funded PrEP and the UK Gov­ern­ment will of­fer the drug to 10,000 “high risk” peo­ple from next month. The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion has added the drug to its list of “es­sen­tial medicines”.

Health Min­is­ter Dr Jonathan Cole­man said the Na­tional Party sup­ported the move to make New Zealand HIV-free. The Gov­ern­ment had in­creased Phar­mac’s bud­get by $220m since 2008 but fund­ing de­ci­sions were up to Phar­mac. This year the Min­istry of Health cut fund­ing for a study on new trends in HIV di­ag­no­sis. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said her party was com­mit­ted to end­ing HIV trans­mis­sions by 2025 and would fund ac­cess to PrEP.

“This is a small in­vest­ment which will pro­tect the health of New Zealan­ders and will save mil­lions in life­time treat­ment.”

It has pre­vi­ously cost as much as $1000 a month to buy PrEP in New Zealand. But the drug’s patent has just fin­ished, which means it would get down to $50 a month or cheaper, My­ers said.

Vaughan Me­ne­ses.

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