Major barrier to treating HIV removed
On a Friday afternoon at 4pm on December 20, while most HIV-positive Australians were preparing for the Christmas and New Year Season, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) announced the removal of a regulatory barrier preventing people from starting HIV treatment early.
The change has been welcomed as a major step forward in the fight against HIV in Australia.
Now all HIV-positive Australians can access antiretroviral therapy at a time of their choosing. This includes HIV-positive people who are well and have high CD4 cell counts (above 500) and wish to commence therapy to improve their health, and to minimise the risk of transmitting HIV to others.
The previous PBS HIV Treatment Guidelines did not allow people with HIV - who showed no clinical symptoms and had a CD4 cell count higher than 500 - to receive PBS-subsidised HIV treatment. The restriction made no sense when many expert clinicians from around the world recommend that people diagnosed with HIV consider starting treatment early to benefit their own health and to reduce the risk of passing on HIV to others.
PBAC recommended the change after a major submission from the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), the Australasian Society of HIV Medicine (ASHM), and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) – with assistance from the Kirby Institute.
Recent estimates suggest that only around 50% of Australians diagnosed with HIV are currently on treatment. This is well below the target of 90% endorsed by all Australian Health Ministers last July. The change to the PBAC regulations removes another barrier and will likely see an increase in treatment uptake by HIV-positive Australians.