NDP urge coverage for drug treatment

A significant rise in new cases of HIV infection in Nova Scotia has the New Democrats and health-care advocates urging the Liberal government to provide universal access to a drug they say can eradicate the virus.

“We believe anyone who needs this medication should be able to access it free of charge,” Tammy Martin, the MLA for Cape Breton Centre and the New Democrat health spokeswoman, said at a Province House news conference Wednesday to advocate for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.

“Places where PrEP is covered see major improvements and reductions in the number of new HIV cases.”

Universal coverage for PrEP, an HIV prevention strategy that uses daily antiretroviral drugs to protect HIV-negative people from infection, is provided in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Those at risk of exposure to HIV take a PrEP pill daily that can reduce the potential of infection by as much as 99 per cent, said Kirk Furlotte, regional manager of Community-Based Research Centre.

In recent years, there had been 15 to 17 new cases of HIV reported annually in the province. Furlotte said as of this week, there have been 25 new cases in 2018.

“Universal access to PrEP can be a simple straightforward solution,” Furlotte said.

Matt Numer, an assistant professor in the School of Health and Human Performance at Dalhousie University and chairman of the PrEP Action Committee, said it is time for government to do something.

“As chair of the PrEP Action Committee and as a gay man myself, I and everyone in our community has witnessed the devastating impacts of HIV,” Numer said. “As of right now, we have all the tools necessary to eradicate new HIV infections. The PrEP Action Committee called on government in June of this year to make PrEP accessible to everyone. Instead of acting in the most fiscally responsible and health-conscious manner, the government did as little as possible by listing it on the Pharmacare program. We are continuing to see a spike in new cases.”

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, attacks the immune system that helps fight off illness. Once the virus gets inside a person’s body, that carrier may not look or feel sick for years but can still infect others. Over time, the immune system grows weaker and those infected become sick with different illnesses. At that stage, the disease has progressed to Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.

The virus infects people by getting inside blood cells. At risk of contracting the virus are those who have the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk of someone who is infected enter their body through the mouth, vagina, anus, penis or breaks in the skin. Men having sex with men and people injecting drugs are most commonly identified as risk factors and Dr. Trevor Arnason, the medical health officer for Halifax, said in July that those two factors applied to almost all of the 16 new cases reported in the province up to that time.

As Health Minister Randy Delorey prepared to take part in a flag raising event Thursday to mark HIV/AIDS Awareness Week in the province and World AIDS Day, department spokeswoman Tracy Barron said in an email Wednesday that government does cover PrEP under the Pharmacare program. She said the department is “consulting with community groups to better understand their concerns with this coverage and ways to improve access.”

Martin said it would only cost $250 for the generic PrEP medication for one individual each month, or $3,000 each year. She said 500 would be the extremely high end of an estimated number of people in the province who would apply for access to PrEP, which would amount to a $1.5-million annual investment from government. That $1.5-million investment is about the same as the lifetime cost for one person infected with HIV, she said.

“We need a real response to HIV in this province,” Numer said. “PrEP coverage will save taxpayers money, prevent life-altering illnesses and reduce strain on our already burdened health system. The government of Nova Scotia has known for over a year about the cost savings but it has still not made the decisions necessary to make them happen.”

He said the number of new HIV cases is unacceptable.

“We have the technology to stop HIV. A real response to the HIV outbreak is universal access to PrEP for those who need it. Covering PrEP will save money, reduce health disparities among marginalized populations and reduce devastating impacts of HIV infection.”

The added costs across the province this year to treat the newly infected cases will be approximately $6 million, Numer said.

“A program to cover PrEP would likely cost about $1.5 million at maximum. We implore the government to act.”

A significant rise in new cases of HIV infection in Nova Scotia has the New Democrats and health-care advocates urging the Liberal government to provide universal access to a drug they say can eradicate the virus.

“We believe anyone who needs this medication should be able to access it free of charge,” Wendy Martin, the MLA for Cape Breton Centre and the New Democrat health spokeswoman, said at a Province House news conference Wednesday to advocate for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.

“Places where PrEP is covered see major improvements and reductions in the number of new HIV cases.”

Universal coverage for PrEP, an HIV prevention strategy that uses daily antiretroviral drugs to protect HIV-negative people from infection, is provided in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Those at risk of exposure to HIV take a PrEP pill daily that can reduce the potential of infection by as much as 99 per cent, said Kirk Furlotte, regional manager of Community-Based Research Centre.

In recent years, there had been 15 to 17 new cases of HIV reported annually in the province. Furlotte said as of this week, there have been 25 new cases in 2018.

“Universal access to PrEP can be a simple straightforward solution,” Furlotte said.

Matt Numer, an assistant professor in the School of Health and Human Performance at Dalhousie University and chairman of the PrEP Action Committee, said it is time for government to do something.

“As chair of the PrEP Action Committee and as a gay man myself, I and everyone in our community has witnessed the devastating impacts of HIV,” Numer said. “As of right now, we have all the tools necessary to eradicate new HIV infections. The PrEP Action Committee called on government in June of this year to make PrEP accessible to everyone. Instead of acting in the most fiscally responsible and health-conscious manner, the government did as little as possible by listing it on the Pharmacare program. We are continuing to see a spike in new cases.”

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, attacks the immune system that helps fight off illness. Once the virus gets inside a person’s body, that carrier may not look or feel sick for years but can still infect others. Over time, the immune system grows weaker and those infected become sick with different illnesses. At that stage, the disease has progressed to Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.

The virus infects people by getting inside blood cells. At risk of contracting the virus are those who have the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk of someone who is infected enter their body through the mouth, vagina, anus, penis or breaks in the skin. Men having sex with men and people injecting drugs are most commonly identified as risk factors and Dr. Trevor Arnason, the medical health officer for Halifax, said in July that those two factors applied to almost all of the 16 new cases reported in the province up to that time.

As Health Minister Randy Delorey prepared to take part in a flag raising event Thursday to mark HIV/AIDS Awareness Week in the province and World AIDS Day, department spokeswoman Tracy Barron said in an email Wednesday that government does cover PrEP under the Pharmacare program. She said the department is “consulting with community groups to better understand their concerns with this coverage and ways to improve access.”

Martin said it would only cost $250 for the generic PrEP medication for one individual each month, or $3,000 each year. She said 500 would be the extremely high end of an estimated number of people in the province who would apply for access to PrEP, which would amount to a $1.5-million annual investment from government. That $1.5-million investment is about the same as the lifetime cost for one person infected with HIV, she said.

“We need a real response to HIV in this province,” Numer said. “PrEP coverage will save taxpayers money, prevent life-altering illnesses and reduce strain on our already burdened health system. The government of Nova Scotia has known for over a year about the cost savings but it has still not made the decisions necessary to make them happen.”

He said the number of new HIV cases is unacceptable.

“We have the technology to stop HIV. A real response to the HIV outbreak is universal access to PrEP for those who need it. Covering PrEP will save money, reduce health disparities among marginalized populations and reduce devastating impacts of HIV infection.”

The added costs across the province this year to treat the newly infected cases will be approximately $6 million, Numer said.

“A program to cover PrEP would likely cost about $1.5 million at maximum. We implore the government to act.”

Originally posted on The Chronicle Herald

CBRC

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Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) promotes the health of gay men through research and intervention development. We are inclusive of bisexual and queer men (cis and trans) and Two Spirit people.
NDP urge coverage for drug treatment
NDP urge coverage for drug treatment
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