Strong numbers on the uptake of a new provincial government-funded drug program that significantly reduces the likelihood of HIV infection could have a major impact on BC’s growth rate of new cases of HIV.
On Tuesday, the provincial government announced that well over 2,000 people across the province have been prescribed with HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) ever since the no-cost, fully-funded medication was launched in BC on January 1 of this year. This includes 1,944 people prescribed with PrEP and at least 400 PEP kit initiations.
PrEP is available to eligible high-risk individuals as a preventative measure through the BC Centre for Excellence’s HIV Drug Treatment program, with eligible individuals comprised of gay men, transgender women, people with ongoing relationships with HIV-positive sex partners, and people who inject drugs with a known HIV-positive partner.
This antiretroviral medication is taken orally, and some clinical trials indicate it reduces new cases of HIV by between 92% to 99%.
On the other hand, PEP is given to individuals shortly after they have a potential high-risk exposure to HIV. These situations include a condom breaking during sex, sexual assault, or the sharing of drug injection needles.
“The expansion of coverage for PrEP and PEP keeps B.C. at the forefront of fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS,” said Adrian Dix, BC Minister of Health, in a statement.
“By supporting the introduction of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’ Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, the lifesaving drug cocktail that changed the face of HIV, our province continues to sees a consistent decline in new cases of HIV.”
Gay men are disproportionately affected by HIV, with 46% of new cases in the province occurring within this group. And based on the statistics of the users of the new PrEP drug program, an overwhelming 99% of the users are male, the median age is young at 34, and 70% live in Metro Vancouver.
Given that early results already indicate a decline in new HIV infection in the province, an effort will be made to expand the program’s use. Provincial health authorities project that once PrEP reaches the threshold of 5,000 program participants, the rate of new HIV cases in BC will fall by 83% by 2026.
Without government funding, PrEP would cost users as much as $1,000 per month. So far, the free program has cost the government less than $300,000 over the first six months.
The provincial government says ever since BC introduced its first Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy programs more than two decades ago, the number of new annual cases of HIV have decreased from 900 new cases to less than 200. Additionally, BC is the only province to see a consistent decline in new HIV cases.
Meanwhile in the United States, it was recently made public that the first human trials of an HIV vaccine are scheduled to begin in 2019.