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Jul15

Equal access to PEP for all Victorians

CREATED ON // Tuesday, 15 July 2014 Written by // Simon Ruth

On July 14, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), in partnership with Living Positive Victoria, released an election platform ahead of the Victorian state election on November 29 this year.

The platform highlights actions that we think the next government of Victoria should implement to ensure Victoria’s response to HIV remains relevant and effective. The election platform identifies actions in the areas of prevention, testing, stigma, care and support for people living with HIV and criminalisation.

One of the most important initiatives in Victoria’s response to reducing HIV transmissions is post exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP is a highly effective defence against accidental exposure to HIV. PEP needs to be prescribed as soon as possible after exposure to HIV, and must be commenced within 72 hours of the episode of exposure. To be effective, PEP must be taken daily for 28 days after commencement.

Gay men are at higher risk of HIV because of our sexual practices. The degree of risk depends on what occurred. During sex this can depend on the role played by each person. It can also vary according to the HIV status of the sexual partner.

ViewpointpepHIV

[Image] VAC and LPV have put together a HIV-prevention action plan.

It is essential that gay men in Victoria can access PEP easily and in a timely manner. Currently, there are only nine PEP providers in Victoria. These providers are all located in the Melbourne metropolitan area, with all but one within ten kilometres from the CBD. This compares poorly with NSW where there are sixty PEP providers covering the entire state. Even the Northern Territory has more providers than Victoria.

To address this situation we are calling for the initiation of a PEP strategy. To maximise the opportunities presented by PEP, we believe that no one in rural Victoria should have to travel more than 50 kilometres to obtain PEP. PEP should be made available through hospital networks and community health services. One of the concerns expressed by people who have struggled or failed to access PEP in Victoria is provider prejudice. Expanding the availability of PEP needs be accompanied by measures that ensure that PEP is provided in a safe, caring and non-judgemental environment.

We also believe that PEP treatment should be available for purchase through pharmacies. This would mean that individuals who felt uncomfortable obtaining PEP through a sexual health centre or GP could obtain PEP over the counter in a pharmacy.

For HIV risk reduction strategies to be most effective we must ensure that they are available to those individuals most at risk. We are very fortunate to live in a state that funds PEP for accidental exposure to HIV. However, until we make PEP more widely available in more friendly and more supportive environments, we will fail in our duty to ensure that all Victorians have equal access to this important HIV prevention tool.

Access to PEP isn’t just an issue for gay men. Injecting drug users and others at risk of HIV also need easy access to PEP. To find out more about PEP go to getpep.info

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Simon Ruth

Simon Ruth

Simon Ruth is the CEO of the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men's Health Centre.

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