A regulatory barrier in Australia, which stopped HIV-positive patients with high CD4 counts and no symptoms from accessing HIV treatment through subsidy scheme, has been lifted
A number of NGOs applied to the the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to have HIV included in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) – the Kirby Institute co-ordinated applications from the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), the Australasian Society for HIV medicine (ASHM) and the Australian Federation of Aids Organisations (AFAO).
The regulation, as it stood, prevented patients accessing HIV treatment to patients until their CD4 count dropped below 400, the average person has a CD4 count of around 900. This meant that patients were expected to pay the full cost of the drugs, up to the the sum of $15,000 a year.
“CD4 is the immune cell that oversees and coordinates our immune system. It’s like the conductor of a wonderful orchestra”, “It’s the target cell that HIV affects and kills. Over several years the immune system can drop down to about 200 with HIV if you don’t treat it.” said president of the ASHM, Associate Professor Edwina Wright.
Bill Whittaker, speaking for NAPWHA said the current regulations “no sense in the modern era” and that “Today, leading guidelines and many expert clinicians recommend people with HIV consider starting treatment earlier to benefit their health and wellbeing”.
Treatment is also being seen more and more as an essential tool in reducing new HIV infections. Someone who is on treatment, with an undetectable viral load is upto 96% less likely to transmit the virus to their partner(s), so starting treatment early has benefits both to the patient and public health.