Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia will fund HIV-prevention drug PrEP with pharmacare

The Nova Scotian government has announced the HIV prevention drug PreP will be added as a benefit under pharmacare programs, starting July 23.

Days after CBC reports on an increase in HIV cases in the province, government adds drug to pharmacare

Several Canadian provinces have started covering the drug PrEP. (CBC)

Nova Scotia will cover the HIV-prevention drug PrEP under the provincial pharmacare program, the government announced Friday. 

The government said PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, helps prevent the spread of HIV, especially with people at high-risk for infection. It will be covered starting Monday. 

The move comes days after CBC News reported a big increase in HIV cases in Nova Scotia. The province has seen 16 new cases already in 2018, compared to the average of about 16 for an entire year. 

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health for Nova Scotia, said the drug is effective at preventing HIV infections when people also practice safe sex. 

"There is now clear evidence on the effectiveness of PrEP in preventing HIV. Any steps that increase access to PrEP are important contributions to reducing the impact HIV has on individuals, communities and our health care system," he said in a media release. 

Strang said PrEP can help stop HIV from spreading, along with using condoms and not sharing needles if you use drugs. Once on PrEP, people must have regular check-ups, including blood tests for other sexually transmitted diseases.

He said people interested in using the drug should talk to a primary health-care provider to find out if they're eligible. 

Advocate calls for wider coverage

The chairman of the PrEP action committee called the announcement a "symbolic gesture" and said it will have "little to no impact on the reduction of HIV infections in Nova Scotia." 

"This announcement is a good, small, first step forward," said Matthew Numer, who is also an assistant professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University. "If we're going to really commit to ending HIV, we have all the tools necessary. Let's do it now. We have all the evidence. Let's make a commitment."

Matt Numer, a professor at Dalhousie University, has been taking PrEP since before it was approved in Canada (CBC)

Pharmacare helps Nova Scotians who have no private drug coverage and can prove the cost of prescription drugs have become a financial burden. 

Numer said covering the drug for all who need it would actually benefit the economy. He calculates that if you add up healthcare costs, reduced earnings and quality of life impact, "The lifetime cost for one individual infected with HIV is about $1.3 million."

By contrast, a year's supply of PrEP would be about $3,000, he said. 

Strang said he will work with advocacy groups to deal with barriers that come with the government's health plan.