Health Minister Adrian Dix has responded to concerns in the LGBT community that his government isn’t doing enough to prevent HIV infections. Today, Dix announced that people at high risk of contracting the retrovirus can receive a daily oral medication for free, starting on January 1.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, a.k.a. PrEP, has been recommended by the World Health Organization and the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS as a means to reduce transmission of HIV.
“Our government is committed to helping fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and supporting people as they take action to protect themselves from this virus,” Dix said in a news release. “Making this medication free for people will prevent new HIV infections, remove barriers to care and services, and help people live longer and healthier lives.”
The government’s move was applauded by Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
“B.C. has led the country and the world on efforts to control HIV and AIDS over the last three decades with the development and implementation of the made-in-B.C. Treatment as Prevention strategy,” the world-renowned physician stated. “The addition of PrEP and expansion of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to our Treatment as Prevention strategy has the potential to further accelerate the decline of new HIV infections in the province.”
Today’s government news release stated: “In August 2016, the Common Drug Review recommended PrEP for coverage, contingent in part on a lower price for the drug Truvada being secured. This condition has been met through the availability of generic Truvada.”
In a commentary on Straight.com in October, health activist Jody Jollimore pointed out that “HIV is still a reality for many gay men in British Columbia”, noting that more than 50 percent of new infections involve gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.
And Jollimore emphasized that Dix and Premier John Horgan “have a once in a lifetime opportunity” to make this medication available.
Jollimore’s commentary also acknowledged that the onus is on gay men to ask for a prescription. This, he emphasized, can be problematic because some physicians have been unwilling to do this.
“Whether this is because they aren’t well-versed on the latest prevention technologies or are unwilling to acknowledge the reality that gay men need this medication, it places gay men in the unenviable position of having to seek out a new doctor for care,” he wrote. “And if you’re not out to your doctor, forget it.”
This article first appeared in the Georgia Straight on December 28, 2017. Community-Based Research Centre is a Nixey Communications client. Photo credit: Stephen Hui.