New Zealand is about to take a pioneering approach to fighting HIV/AIDS—by publicly funding pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication Truvada, manufactured by U.S. biotech giant Gilead. Taking this drug daily has shown to offer more than 90% (and as much as 99%) effective protection against HIV in clinical trials, and certain New Zealand residents will soon be able to get a three-month supply for just $5 (oh, and that’s five New Zealand dollars, which is about $3.64 in U.S. money).
The drastic price cut (Truvada currently costs about $30 per day in New Zealand) could go a long way toward widescale HIV prevention, as the discount will be targeted toward the most high-risk residents. That includes men who have sex with men, transgender people who have sex with men, those with higher chances of engaging in risky sexual behavior such as sex without a condom, and people with partners who are HIV positive.
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“Together with safe sex practice, early diagnosis, and access to treatment, we expect that PrEP will significantly reduce HIV transmission rates in New Zealand,” Sarah Fitt, the chief executive of New Zealand’s public pharmaceutical management agency Pharmac, told Stuff.
The aggressive funding decision was driven by New Zealand’s struggles with HIV infection, particularly in the past few years. The virus’ spread has even been labeled an epidemic, with cases rising every year since 2011 (although total infections still remain relatively low compared with other nations). A number of other regions, including Scotland and Canada’s Ontario, provide public funding for PrEP.
Safe sex practices and the growing popularity of Truvada may have also helped lead to a striking decline in HIV infections in the U.S., according to HIV.gov. Annual infections declined 18% between 2008 and 2014, according to government figures—although the progress remains uneven across various communities and demographics. While most U.S. insurance plans at least partially cover PrEP, it can be prohibitively expensive for Americans without health coverage (or those with extremely high drug co-pays on their insurance plans).