December 28, 2017 4:10 pm

B.C. approves coverage of HIV-blocking drug for high-risk groups

In this file photo, a doctor holds Truvada pills at her office in San Francisco.

Jeff Chiu/AP

Activists are applauding the B.C. government for approving coverage of an HIV-prevention drug for those at high-risk of infection.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Health announced that access to pre-exposure prophylaxis — better known as PrEP — will be free of charge beginning Jan. 1 for men and transwomen who have sex with men, injection drug users and people who have sex with HIV-positive people.

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Sold under the brand name Truvada, the drug was approved by Health Canada last year and can be prescribed as both a treatment for people with the disease, as well as a preventative therapy to keep people at high risk from contracting the virus.

“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,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix in a statement.

PrEP is recommended as a preventative measure by the World Health Organization and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

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Some studies have found it can cut the risk of HIV infection by up to 90 per cent if taken before or after sex.

Managing director of the Community Based Research Centre (CBRC) Jody Jollimore said the news once again positions B.C. as an HIV prevention leader.

“The data that came out of cities that were experiencing reductions in HIV prevention, that prompted a lot of us to ramp up the advocacy in the last six months — particularly with the government change and Premier Horgan’s promise during the election campaign.”

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Daily use of PrEP is recommended by the World Health Organization and the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS as an effective method to prevent HIV in people at risk of infection.

The drug can cost between $500 to $1,000 per month, and until now was only covered by some extended health plans.

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The CBRC says those prices are negligible compared to the life-long costs of treating someone with HIV.

In 2016, B.C.’s Common Drug Review, the body charged with assessing whether the province will provide coverage for medication, recommended PrEP be funded if B.C. could secure a lower price for Truvada.

The Ministry of Health says that condition was met through the availability of generic form of the drug.

It says people interested in accessing the medication should now speak to their health care provider.

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