PEI

Covering costs of HIV prevention drug 'just makes sense'

A P.E.I. group that supports people living with sexually transmitted infections is disappointed the province did not take the opportunity of World AIDS Day to announce coverage for PrEP.

P.E.I. one of few provinces not covering PrEP

PrEP is sold under the brand name Truvada. (CBC)

A P.E.I. group that supports people living with sexually transmitted infections is disappointed the province did not take the opportunity of World AIDS Day to announce coverage for PrEP.

PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, selling under the brand name Truvada, is covered in most provinces. It is meant to be taken daily, and has a good success rate in preventing HIV infections in high-risk communities.

"If we're just talking economics, it just makes sense, but if we also look at the evidence around the decrease in the transmission of HIV the evidence is there," said Cybelle Rieber, executive director of PEERS Alliance.

In an email to PEERS earlier this week, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said is still looking into funding for PrEP.

The cost of the medication has dropped dramatically recently, but on P.E.I. it is still about $230 a month.

"PrEP is the biggest innovation for a controller of disease that we've seen in a while," said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Dalhousie University.

A significant expense

But Barrett said there are still some barriers in getting the drug to the people who need them, and cost is one of them.

Matt Numer, who teaches sexual health at Dalhousie University and chairs a group called the PrEP Action Committee in Nova Scotia, described $230 as a significant out-of-pocket expense.

"However, when governments can negotiate these price they can really get a reduction," said Numer.

The evidence is there, says Cybelle Rieber. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

"I know that out in B.C. they're paying roughly 50 to 60 dollars per person that they have in the program. When you look at that compared to an HIV infection, which will cost $1.3 million on average over the life of the patient, the argument is really strong."

Rieber said with just a few dozen people on the Island likely to be interested in the program, covering PrEP would not be a large expense for the government.

Finding a doctor

Another issue that needs to be addressed, Barrett said, is finding a doctor who knows how to care for a patient taking PrEP and is prepared to prescribe it.

Rieber said PEERS has been helping people find doctors, but sometimes while those doctors are ready to prescribe, they are not ready to take on new patients.

Rieber is confident the province will eventually cover the cost of PrEP, but would like to see it happen as soon as possible.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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