Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Government Adds HIV Prevention Drug to Pharmacare Program

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia Government Adds HIV Prevention Drug to Pharmacare Program

Article excerpt

N.S. adds HIV prevention drug to pharmacare

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HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia government said Friday that it will add a drug that helps prevent HIV to the provincial pharmacare program, though some activists are still calling on the province to provide universal funding.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis -- often referred to as PrEP -- can be taken daily by people who are at a high-risk for HIV infection, like men who have sex with men or people who inject drugs.

The announcement comes days after health officials reported a significant increase in the number of new HIV infections in the province so far this year.

But Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said it's been in the works for months.

"We certainly recognize that this is a first step in increasing access and removing financial barriers to PrEP, that there are still many financial and other barriers that remain," said Strang Friday.

Strang says the eligibility criteria will be based on national guidelines and recommendations from the Canadian Drug Expert Committee. The amount of coverage provided would be based on which pharmacare program patients fall under and what their income is.

"We know that affordability of medications is a substantive issue across this country and that's why there is a national conversation about a national approach to pharmacare coverage," said Strang.

"I think we need to acknowledge that there are many groups out there who do have challenges with affording medication and we have to look at all those and do the best we can with the resources we have available."

Without coverage, the medication can cost around $400 a month in Nova Scotia.

Strang said PrEP is covered in many third-party drug plans, and around two thirds of Nova Scotians are covered under such plans.

The announcement was met with mixed reactions from a Nova Scotia AIDS researcher and activist, who said much work is left to be done.

"The reality of this measure is, in public health outcomes in the coming months, it will have very little impact on HIV cases," said Matthew Numer, assistant professor in the School of Health and Human Performance at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"We need universal access to PrEP in order to really put our effort toward curbing this epidemic. …

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