HIV meds from your local pharmacy
In the lead up to the recent International AIDS 2014 Conference in Melbourne, Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton launched the 7th National HIV Strategy.
The strategy acknowledged that “for some people living with HIV, issues around side effects, adherence, treatment failure, drug resistance, cost, and arrangements that restrict dispensing of antiretroviral medication to selected hospital pharmacies present barriers to commencing or continuing treatment. Systemic and structural barriers to treatment uptake, such as dispensing arrangements and treatment access across all groups, need to be addressed by Commonwealth, state and territory governments.”
To this end, Minister Dutton committed to implement community pharmacy access to HIV antiretroviral therapy under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
What this means is that from 1 July 2015, people with HIV will be able to get HIV medications dispensed from either a hospital pharmacy, or a community pharmacy. Under the current policy, HIV medications can only be dispensed by a hospital pharmacy.
[Image] Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton
Community based S100 prescribers and patients are required to be associated with a hospital to be able to access antiretrovirals. From 1 July 2015, this will no longer be the case. The change in policy recognises that, even though people with HIV are treated by community prescribers (GPs100 prescribers) and specialists in a hospital setting, there is an increased need for people to have a range of options to collect their HIV medications. The change in policy better aligns community prescribing and the need for patient dispensing convenience – a position which has strongly been advocated by HIV activists over the last decade as more. As increasing numbers of people with HIV returned to employment and were required to take time off from work to attend hospital pharmacies and collect their HIV medications, the need for the convenience of evening and weekend dispensing of HIV medications became increasingly urgent.
So what will the HIV dispensing landscape look like after July 2015? Well I very much doubt that you will be able to walk into any local community pharmacy and get your HIV prescription dispensed. What is more likely is that community pharmacies with high numbers of existing or potential customers with HIV will opt-in to provide an ART dispensing service. It is likely that in areas with high populations of people with HIV (Darlinghurst, Newtown, Marrickville, Redfern, Surry Hills etc) a community pharmacy may choose to provide this service. But, if you live in an area where you’re the only other HIV-positive person, or there’s just a small population, it’s probably unlikely that your local community pharmacy will be prepared to dispense your HIV meds.
That being said, it’s a huge step forward for people with HIV and one which will not only provide a much needed after-hours access to dispensing services, but will assist in the removal of yet another barrier to treatment uptake and adherence and make it much easier to pick up your HIV medication.
Lance Feeney is the Policy analyst and advocate at Positive Life NSW. He is a member of the NAPWHA PozAction Leaders Group.