AUSTRALIANS at risk of HIV are being forced to import a potentially life-changing drug because it is too expensive here.
The pre-exposure prophylaxis Truvada costs about $1300 on the overseas market compared to $10,000 a year in Australia.
Gay and bisexual men and straight women are the country's key importers of the drug.
It is not illegal to import the medication, which must be taken daily to prevent HIV infection.
While Australian doctors can prescribe it, the Therapeutic Goods Administration is a long way off approving PrEP.
Once approved it should be subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Until then, Australians with tight budgets are saving about $9000 a year by buying it from overseas.
American medical researcher Bob Grant, who is in Brisbane this week to speak at the Australasian HIV Conference, told APN Newsdesk that PrEP was having a huge impact in his native San Francisco.
He said that city recorded a 30% decrease in new HIV transmissions over the past three years thanks to the drug.
"PrEP is safe and effective and demand is rolling out in the United States," Professor Grant said.
"We've seen a 300% increase in PrEP use nation-wide and in San Francisco in 2014, 10 to 15% of gay men were taking PrEP."
Professor Grant said the drug was "empowering" for women.
"It is proven to be safe and effective for women - especially women who have HIV positive partners," he said.
"So many of our HIV prevention strategies require that the susceptible person trust that they'll use a condom or that that they will take their anti-retroviral medication, but PrEP gives the woman control over her risk."
"We're still trying to work it out, but because the Federal Government isn't paying for the drug we have to find other ways to make it freely available or at least cheaply available," Dr Russell said.
PrEP's alternative, PEP - a post-exposure prophylaxis - has been available from hospital emergency departments and sexual health doctors for about 10 years.
- APN NEWSDESK
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