Aids pill a $120m win for Kiwis
Claims HIV medicine could save taxpayer.
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.