B.C. celebrates wide uptake of HIV prevention drugs 6 months after public funding
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks in Vancouver's West End on Tuesday, June 26.
Six months after the B.C. government expanded funding for HIV/AIDS prevention drugs, provincial officials and health care workers are celebrating a wide uptake of the prevention regimens.
In the first half of the year, more than 2,000 people were prescribed the potentially life-saving medications at no out-of-pocket cost.
"We're trying to set an example for the rest of the country and the rest of the world in terms of how to roll out these programs in a cost-effective manner," Dr. Julio Montaner, the director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, told reporters Tuesday.
In January 2018, the province expanded coverage for pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP. It's a medication taken every day that's effective at preventing HIV infection in people who are exposed to the virus.
The once-expensive drug cocktail is now free for men and trans women who have sex with men, injecting drug users and anyone whose partner is HIV-positive.
The government also expanded coverage for post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. That's a medication taken soon after unforeseen exposure to the HIV/AIDS virus to prevent infection.
PEP is now available to sexual assault victims free of charge.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said new HIV infections have declined since the province began funding the drugs. B.C. is the only province to see a consistent decline in new HIV/AIDS cases.
Giving them to patients at no charge has cost the province just under $280,000 over six months.
"This is, by health care standards, an extraordinary bargain," Dix said. "And, by human standards, an extraordinary success."
Montaner believes preventative initiatives like this one can help the province ultimately end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.