The enrolment of the one-thousandth participant in Australia’s largest study of PrEP – a revolutionary HIV prevention approach is being hailed as a landmark moment in the effort to end HIV transmissions in NSW by 2020.
PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis and it’s an antiretroviral medication taken by HIV negative people at high risk of acquiring HIV to prevent infection. Studies have shown that PrEP is extremely effective at preventing HIV transmission.
Announced last year on World AIDS Day (Dec 1) by NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, the Expanded PrEP Implementation in Communities (EPIC-NSW) study aims to increase understanding of the potential for PrEP to drive down new HIV infections.
By making PrEP accessible to 3700 people in NSW at high risk of HIV transmission in a short space of time, the intention of the study is to examine the interruption to infection rates. The modelling suggests that this may dramatically reduce new transmissions in NSW.
The study is being led by University of NSW’s Kirby Institute with the support of ACON, NSW’s leading HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTI* health organisation.
Minister Skinner today joined representatives from the Kirby Institute, ACON and other key partners to officially launch the EPIC study and to announce that the major study milestone had been reached.
ACON President Dr Justin Koonin said that ACON is thrilled to be involved in the historic project, and congratulated Minister Skinner on leading Australia’s contemporary response to HIV.
“PrEP is widely acknowledged as a potential game changer in terms of preventing HIV transmission in NSW. NSW is leading the way nationally, with 3700 EPIC participants to be recruited into the trial. That means that 3,700 people most at risk of acquiring HIV will be protected. The NSW Government is really taking our approach to HIV prevention to the next level,” Dr Koonin said.
“When we combine this with our increasing rates of HIV testing among gay men and stronger uptake of treatment among people living with HIV, we may be able to deliver the biggest reduction in HIV transmission rates in NSW for more than two decades. This is an incredibly exciting possibility for our communities.
“Truvada for PrEP has recently been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and ACON supports its placement on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, so that PrEP is affordable and accessible to those who chose to take it.”
Positive Life NSW, NSW’s leading organisation representing people with HIV, said that PrEP affords HIV negative men the freedom from distress and concern associated with the virus.
Positive Life Acting-CEO Lance Feeney said Positive Life is excited about the improved access to PrEP which will empower people at high risk of HIV infection to stay negative.
“This increased availability of PrEP in the community should begin to release us from anxiety and fear of transmitting or acquiring HIV and advance the goal of the virtual elimination of HIV transmission by 2020,” Mr Feeney said.
Professor David Cooper AO, Director of the Kirby Institute said that the successful implementation of Australia’s largest PrEP trial was an incredible feat that will have the potential for creating real change in HIV prevention.
“A rollout of this scale is a remarkable achievement and we are well on the way to reducing new HIV infections in NSW to half the current rate within the next two years. A decline of this magnitude and speed would be unprecedented globally.” Professor Cooper said.
For Sydney-based EPIC participant Tom Spillane, using PrEP has not only provided peace of mind in regards to preventing HIV transmission, but has also offered greater outcomes concerning mental health.
“PrEP just takes away so much of the stress and anxiety that was previously associated with the sex that I wanted to have but felt afraid to. It’s a minimal disruption to my life. I take it in the mornings and happily I don’t have any side-effects. It’s given me a sense of relief and control, and I find myself feeling far less scared about sex,” Mr Spillane said.
“Another advantage of incorporating PrEP into my HIV prevention strategy is that not only is my own sexual health under control, but the health of my partners can also benefit as well. I see PrEP as a very valuable tool in our fight to end HIV by 2020. That’s huge for me.”
To find our more or get involved in the EPIC trial, visit the Ending HIV website – http://endinghiv.org.au/nsw/stay-safe/prep/
*LGBTI = Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex
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