The number of new HIV infections in Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) has almost halved in Victoria thanks to an Alfred Health study that provided thousands of Victorians with access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.
In a new analysis published in The Lancet HIV, researchers from Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC) identified that the number of Australian-born* MSM diagnosed with HIV at the centre in 2017 was the lowest in a decade.
In 2009, the annual number of HIV diagnoses among MSM was 28 but dropped to just 16 in 2017 (a 43 per cent decline despite a 203 per cent increase in the number of HIV tests during the period).
Lead researcher Dr Eric Chow said the significant reduction was most likely because of the launch of the PrEPX intervention study in mid-2016. The study provided more than 4200 people with access to PrEP – a drug which, taken daily, can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by 99 per cent.
“Recently, New South Wales saw a 35 per cent decline in HIV diagnoses in MSM after the roll-out of PrEP implementation. Similarly, a 42 per cent reduction in HIV diagnoses was also reported in London in 2015–16,” Dr Chow said.
“This is a significant finding because it shows that providing PrEP to a large population has a major impact on reducing new HIV infections. PrEP is now available to all Australians via the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), which has greatly reduced the cost of the medication. We hope that new HIV infections will continue to decline in Australia.”
Dr Chow said the reduction in new HIV diagnoses was also partially a result of the TasP (Treatment as Prevention) trial, which preceded PrEPX.
“In 2011, WHO recommended that all people diagnosed with HIV should be offered ART immediately regardless of CD4 cell count in 2015,” Dr Chow said.
“For patients diagnosed with HIV at our centre, these changes have reduced the time between diagnosis and commencing antiretroviral therapy and virological suppression.”
*PrEP is only available on the PBS to people with access to Medicare. PrEPX participants also required Medicare eligibility.