NewsOnline exclusive

HIV prevention pill to be covered by Alberta Health

Province set to provide universal coverage for prophylatic treatment

Beginning on Oct. 1, 2018, the government of Alberta will begin providing universal coverage for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug that is up to 99 per cent effective at stopping the transmission of HIV. 

“By making it more accessible and more affordable to people who are at greater risk of getting HIV, then we’re able to reduce the incidences of HIV. It’s that simple,” said Premier Rachel Notley during a fundraiser for queer and trans youth. 

“PrEP is a type of antiretroviral drug taken orally by those at risk who do not yet have HIV,” said Janak Bajgai, team lead on prevention and education at the HIV Community Link in Calgary.

“Those most at risk are people involved in the sex and/or drug industries, men who are sexually active with other men and those who take injected drugs,” said Bajgai.

A survey conducted by the HIV Community Link suggested PrEP has been notoriously hard to obtain for those in need. This is due to the lack of physicians comfortable with discussing PrEP, restricted funding for the drug and the high cost of maintaining effective prescriptions. 

“There seems to be a stigma behind prescribing and taking PrEP,” said Bajgai.

“With the government planning on covering the expense of the drug, that’s something we hope to change in the near future.”

Bajgai said the Community Link survey also showed a surplus of people who purposefully do not seek help due to difficult circumstances, not being able to afford the drug, or not feeling comfortable talking about their situation with a physician. 

“Truvada, one of the largest brands of PrEP, typically costs around $1,000 per month to maintain an effective prescription,” said Bajgai. 

Karen Klassen, clinic manager for SAIT Health Services, said the physicians on campus are not familiar with PrEP, nor the access thereof.

Approximately 80,500 Canadians have been diagnosed with HIV, according to the HIV Community Link. 

Bajgai’s advice to students potentially seeking aid, or relieved by the government’s decision, is to not shy away from existing support systems, as they are there to help relieve the anxiety surrounding the conversation.

Previously, one of the most convenient ways for at-risk persons to obtain PrEP was through the Davie Buyers Club run by Calgary nurse, Alex Smith. 

“Too many Albertans have gone without or have had to travel to another country to receive this medication,” said Smith in an interview with CBC News. 

“I think this announcement will result in a dramatic decrease in HIV infections in the province going forward.”

Alberta is the seventh province in Canada to introduce universal PrEP coverage.

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