16 Jul 2017

Labour pledges to fund anti-HIV meds

4:14 pm on 16 July 2017

The Labour Party is accusing the government of dragging its heels on funding a drug which could prevent a large percentage of HIV transmissions.

A scientist holds three test tubes filled with blood in a laboratory.

The anti-retroviral drug Truvada can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by at least 92 percent (file photo). Photo: 123RF

Last year, 244 people were diagnosed with HIV - the highest number of infections since records began in the 1980s.

Labour's health spokesperson David Clark said his party would fund a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug, such as the anti-retroviral Truvada, which can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by at least 92 percent.

Truvada can also be used in the treatment of HIV.

The Health Minister's office did not answer questions about whether the government would fund PrEP, saying it was a matter for Pharmac.

Truvada currently costs about $1000 per month, however the AIDS Foundation says generic versions are already available overseas for $50-$80 per month.

"PrEP is actually not so expensive, and shortly is due to be coming off patent... we believe that Pharmac will be able to negotiate a good price and that compared to the cost of treating HIV infection, this will be a saving for New Zealand," Dr Clark said.

"The efficacy of PrEP is pretty impressive, it's got to be one of the best for preventing the spread of HIV.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Labour health spokesperson David Clark. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"Treating at-risk populations - and the research tells us who that is - is something that's being done overseas... those areas which have big research budgets and have looked at the economics of it are switching to make sure that prevention is put up front.

"We know the lifetime treatment of someone who has HIV can be as much as $800,000 currently," he said.

Funding PrEP would cost a few million dollars each year, but the exact price was up to Pharmac to negotiate, Dr Clark said.

"The government is dragging its heels in many areas of the health system because they have removed effectively in real terms $2.3 billion from the health system since 2009," he said.

Labour would also boost funding for the AIDS Foundation, HIV research, and sexual education, he said.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said Pharmac's drug-buying model was world class.

"The latest Pharmac funding proposal (7 May 2017) includes earlier access to four HIV anti-retrovirals, benefiting around 3,000 New Zealanders," Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said in a statement.

In February 2014, Pharmac's advisers recommended funding anti-retrovirals for all people diagnosed with HIV as a medium priority.

Pharmac said it could only fund the anti-retrovirals with the lift in the Combined Pharmaceutical Budget announced in May.

"The government supports NZ AIDS Foundation's aspiration to make New Zealand HIV free. The government funds the NZ AIDS Foundation $4 million a year to provide effective, targeted prevention programmes," Dr Coleman said.

The AIDS Foundation said it wanted to end HIV transmissions by 2025.

It said while condoms were the surest way to prevent HIV and many other sexually transmitted infections, PrEP was a good option for people who struggled to maintain condom use.