Drop in Australia HIV sparks call for greater drug roll-out

by Hugo Greenhalgh | @hugo_greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 18 October 2018 16:03 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: The sails of the Sydney Opera House turn red during a World Aids Day reception in Sydney December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

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New HIV infections among Australian-born gay and bisexual men fell by almost 50 percent following the mass introduction of PrEP, an oral prophylactic

(Refiles to fix spelling in para 3)

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, Oct 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - HIV transmission rates among gay and bisexual men fell by almost a third in the Australian state of New South Wales following the wide-scale introduction of a daily anti-HIV drug, sparking calls for other health authorities to follow suit.

According to research by the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, new HIV infections among Australian-born gay and bisexual men fell by almost 50 percent following the mass introduction of PrEP, an oral prophylactic.

For gay and bisexual men living in inner-city Sydney, the research, published on Wednesday in respected health journal the Lancet HIV, revealed HIV transmission rates dropped by just under 52 percent.

The study, based on the EPIC-NSW trial which provided 9,714 HIV-negative people with PrEP between March 2016 and April 2018, offers further evidence of the drug's efficacy, experts said.

"Our findings demonstrate that PrEP, implemented on a background of condom promotion and high levels of HIV testing and treatment, can quickly and dramatically influence the trajectory of the HIV epidemic," Andrew Grulich at the Kirby Institute told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

"This provides strong evidence that policymakers should ensure the rapid, targeted roll-out of PrEP at scale to help turn around HIV epidemics in men who have sex with men."

PrEP works by providing HIV-negative people with anti-retroviral drugs to combat exposure to the virus.

Earlier this year, Australia began to subsidise the cost of the once-daily pill, which is made by Gilead Sciences under the brand name Truvada, slashing the cost for state healthcare systems by thousands of dollars per regime.

Studies show that PrEP can cut the transmission rate of HIV by 99 percent.

France rolled out the drug in 2016, with only four new HIV infections reported among 2,805 people taking Truvada regularly.

PrEP was approved as a prophylactic by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 with an estimated 84,000 men taking the pill by the end of 2016.

San Francisco this year reported its lowest ever HIV transmission rate, with numbers of new infections down 5 percent since 2017 and 60 percent from 10 years ago.

"When we look at gay men in London, we are seeing similar drops in new diagnoses (to the Kirby research)," said Matthew Hodson, executive director of NAM, a British HIV/Aids information charity.

"NAM as well as the Terrence Higgins Trust and the National Aids Trust are urging the (British) government to set out a road map of how they are going to have full PrEP roll out by the beginning of April 1, 2019."

British healthcare authority NHS England said it had recently increased the number of places available under its three-year PrEP Impact Trial by 3,000 to 13,000.

"The NHS will look at evidence from the trial to expand prevention services in the most effective way," a spokeswoman said. (Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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