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A street poster campaign taking aim at ACON and the Victorian AIDS Council for not doing enough to get PrEP approved in Australia has prompted a swift and vehement response from both AIDS councils.

ACON and the Victorian AIDS Council refuted the allegations of ‘inaction’ and called on the people behind the campaign to engage with them directly to find out more about their work on PrEP.

A statement distributed early Friday morning from an organisation calling itself ‘PrEP Action Now’ says it intends to put up posters in Sydney and Melbourne on World AIDS Day. It alleges a lack of action from both AIDS councils in getting PrEP approved in Australia. 


BELOW: The poster by PrEP Action Now



“The AIDS Councils were set up around Australia for one purpose and one purpose only: to stop the transmission of HIV in our community and rid us of this constant fear,” the statement read. 

“In the recent decade they have presided over a failing condom message, rising HIV transmission rates and growing HIV bureaucracy. 

“The gay community needs to know about PrEP.

“With tens of millions of dollars of health funding at their disposal and five years notice that PrEP was coming from the USA, they have no plan.

“Given that the VAC’s first response has been a calling together of active parties to sign an “Accord”, a peace treaty to avoid criticism, we feel the need to criticise. We are disappointed that they sidestepped the chance for action and went for a media opportunity in front of the Victorian State Minister for Health and abrogated their duty to lay out an actual PrEP plan to the community. Likewise with ACON.

“On World AIDS Day where is the PrEP campaign?”

There were no contact details or spokesperson provided in the statement.

ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill refuted the allegations made by PrEP Action Now.

“PrEP Action Now has made a number of incorrect and offensive claims in relation to ACON’s advocacy around PrEP and we strongly refute the attacks this group is making on our community.

“Gay men are responding powerfully to HIV – they’re testing more, they’re taking up treatment if they’re diagnosed with HIV and they’re continuing to fight with us to end HIV. At no time has PrEP Action Now contacted us to raise any issues. We welcome any member of the community getting in touch with us to discuss these issues and find out more about PrEP and what ACON and our partners are doing to expedite its availability.

“What we do acknowledge is there is real and growing frustration in our communities at the time it is taking the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to approve PrEP. This is a proven technology that we believe can really drive down HIV infections in our communities. We understand that and we share the frustration and anger.

“It’s absolutely essential that people know we’ve done everything we can legally do to push the approval of PrEP and to make sure that once it is approved it will be subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). We have advocated tirelessly in the past two years with the Australian Government, Gilead and the TGA to gain the earliest possible decision on PrEP, but the regulatory process is slow. In fact, it’s far too slow.

“While we have pursued strong advocacy avenues, we’ve also been working within the legal boundaries to do what we can to let gay men know how they may personally go about accessing PrEP. For example, we’ve hosted several community education forums. We’ve also brought out a leading PrEP expert from the USA to talk to our community, clinicians and the Government.

“Importantly, we’ve worked with the peak medical body for HIV clinicians and Positive Life NSW to develop a PrEP Access Options resource – telling gay men how they can access PrEP via personal importation from overseas. We’ve promoted this information which provides a step-by-step guide to accessing PrEP despite the domestic barriers. The guide is available at a[TEST] sites and online at our Ending HIV website.

“We’ve built support among a coalition of clinicians and researchers and with the NSW Government. Through that we’ve explored all of the possible avenues to ensure PrEP is as available as possible prior to Australian Government approvals.

“We sought legal advice about setting up a Dallas Buyers Club style importation scheme for PrEP. We were advised that we would be subject to criminal and civil prosecutions with fines of up to $8,500,000 each for a variety of offences. We were also advised that broadcasting information about PrEP, as an unlisted drug, would mean that we could be liable as an organisation for fines of up to $8,500,000. No one can afford to be casual about these risks.

“ACON has worked closely with researchers and the NSW Government to support the PRELUDE trial, which has provided 300 people in NSW with access to PrEP. This is more places than anywhere in Australia, and is an important short-term workaround while the Australian Government considers wider approval.

“In the absence of leadership on PrEP at the Australian Government level, ACON established an Advocacy Group bringing together clinical, research and community partners to find more solutions. We’ve put forward bold proposals and we expect that more will be announced about access to PrEP in NSW on World AIDS Day next week.

“On the basis of all this activity, we strongly refute the claims being made by PrEP Action Now and invite their leadership to engage with us directly so they can be informed about our work in relation to PrEP.”

VAC CEO Simon Ruth said VAC has also been very active in getting approval for PrEP, which he acknowledged was “taking too long”.

“We agree—and have always acknowledged—that this process is taking too long, but in the interim we have not been sitting on our hands. 

“We marched with 6000 people down the streets of Melbourne in July last year demanding PrEP’s approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. 

“We have been working with state and federal governments and nationally with other AIDS councils to do anything we can to expedite the approval process or provide access to PrEP in other ways. 

“We’ve run successful PrEP community forums for over 18 months to inform and educate our community and encourage active conversation—just last night we ran a PrEP forum in Adelaide.

“We do not believe that this statement represents the community. 

“For the past month we have been working with community activists looking to provide access and education around PrEP. 

“One outcome of these discussions has been the development of an accord showing our common ground on this issue, which will be launched in the coming weeks once all stakeholders involved have signed on. This accord will ensure that VAC and the activist groups are working towards the same goal: we want PrEP available now.”

HIV activist and founder of The Institute of Many, Nic Holas, blasted the poster campaign as “immature”.

“What a shame. Some of us in the activism space work hard to undo the sense of entitlement that is endemic in the HIV-affected community – be it poz or neg,” Holas said. 

“This sort of grandstanding just seeks to create a wedge between those who do something, and those who complain about not getting enough. 

“This is an immature, entitled action that proves the people behind it know next to nothing about the campaign to get PrEP approved.”

This campaign comes in the wake of a similar poster blitz in Melbourne in September, which advocated condomless sex because "PrEP works".


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