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Advocates, NDP call for Nova Scotia to fund universal coverage of HIV prevention drug

FILE - A doctor holds Truvada pills (also known as PrEP – or pre-exposure prophylaxis).
FILE - A doctor holds Truvada pills (also known as PrEP – or pre-exposure prophylaxis). AP Photo/ Jeff Chiu

Advocates and the Nova Scotia NDP are pushing for the provincial government to implement universal access to medication that can prevent the transmission of HIV.

Last year, Nova Scotia added pre-exposure prophylaxis — commonly known as PrEP — to its provincial pharmacare program.

But advocates say that not all Nova Scotians qualify for pharmacare, leave those at high risk of HIV infection inadequately projected.

READ MORE: HIV prevention drug added to Nova Scotia pharmacare program

PrEP is a medication that, when used daily, is up to 98 per cent effective at reducing the risk of transmitting HIV, according to the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange.

“We have given the Liberals tonnes of evidence and met with government MLAs, but there is still no action on universal coverage,” said Matt Numer, an associate professor in the school of health and human performance at Dalhousie University.

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“Universal access to PrEP would reduce infections and help save health care dollars required with every new case of HIV.”

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Department of Health said that consultations were held with stakeholders.

“[The] Government is currently considering the various options for reducing the transmission of HIV and AIDS,” said Heather Fairbairn in a statement on Monday.
Click to play video 'Panel discusses importance of HIV prevention drug' Panel discusses importance of HIV prevention drug
Panel discusses importance of HIV prevention drug – Jul 25, 2018

The provincial NDP introduced a private member’s bill in March that would have prompted universal coverage in Nova Scotia. It has yet to receive its second reading.

NDP 2SLGBTQ+ spokesperson Susan Leblanc said the province should be “working to prevent life-long illnesses whenever possible.”

“Cost shouldn’t be the reason a person can’t protect themselves from HIV,” LeBlanc said.

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Click to play video 'HIV infections in Canada have increased over the past decade: Health Canada' HIV infections in Canada have increased over the past decade: Health Canada
HIV infections in Canada have increased over the past decade: Health Canada – Jul 3, 2019

Only three provinces — British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan — currently provide universal PrEP coverage.

READ MORE: ‘Game-changer’ HIV prevention drug could be leading to lower condom use: studies

Nova Scotia saw a spike in HIV cases last year.

In 2017 there were 15 people tested positive for HIV, but that number jumped to 31 in 2018, according to data provided by the Nova Scotia government.

“So far this year, the number of newly diagnosed cases is down 44% over the same period last year,” said Fairbairn.