Major barrier to treating HIV removed

A regulatory barrier, preventing some people from starting HIV treatment early, has been removed.  The amendment has been welcomed as a major step forward in the fight against HIV in Australia. 

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s (PBAC) decision to recommend this change follows a landmark application from three leading non-government HIV organisations. The National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation (AFAO) – with assistance from the Kirby Institute – sought through this action to give all Australian HIV positive people the option to start HIV treatment when they choose to do so.

Current PBS prescribing criteria has not allowed people with HIV, who show no clinical symptoms and have higher CD4 counts1, to receive PBS-subsidised treatments. 

“This restriction made no sense in this modern era of HIV treatment.  Today, leading guidelines and many expert clinicians recommend people with HIV consider starting treatment earlier to benefit their health and well-being,” said Bill Whittaker, spokesperson for NAPWHA.

“Our joint submission also highlighted that HIV treatment has the powerful added benefit of helping prevent transmission of HIV to others.  We emphasise that this works best when used alongside other proven prevention measures – like correct and consistent condom use and provision of clean injecting equipment.”

AFAO ED Rob Lake agrees: “These advances have the potential to dramatically reduce the number of people newly infected with HIV each year. This announcement has been a long time coming – it’s great to see what we can achieve with a concerted collaborative effort on the part of Australian HIV organisations. We can now focus on working toward making ARV therapy more readily available, including through community pharmacies”, he said.

It is estimated that around 200 patients each year will benefit from the PBAC decision.

“We are pleased with the PBAC’s decision, as now all HIV positive people in Australia can access antiretroviral therapy. This includes HIV positive people who are well and have high CD4 cell counts, but who may wish to commence therapy based on their confidence in the current level of evidence and/or their wish to minimise their risk of transmission to others,” said A/Prof Edwina Wright, President of Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) who chaired the submission.

“Recent estimates are that only around 50% of Australians diagnosed with HIV are on the treatments.  This is well below the target of 90% coverage endorsed by all Australian Health Ministers last July.” Whittaker said.  “By empowering all patients to be able to choose when they want to commence treatment, we are likely to see an increase in treatment uptake.”

 “We encourage all GPs who have HIV positive patients who are interested in learning more about HIV therapy in light of today’s announcement to refer them on to the appropriate specialist or community s100 prescribing GP for further information and assistance,” A/Prof Wright said.

MEDIA contact:

Feehan Communications on 02 9267 2711 or 0429 772 759 for information or interviews Current prescribing restrictions mean that HIV positive people who don’t have symptoms cannot start HIV treatment if their CD4 count is 500 cells/mm3 or above.  The CD4 cell count helps measure immune system damage.  A normal CD4 cell count in an HIV-negative adult is usually between 600 and 1200 CD4 cells/mm3

Joint Media Release by The National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisation (AFAO), 20 December 2013