What you need to know about accessing HIV prevention drug PrEP in BC
By Dr. Evan Adams CMO
As of January 1, 2018, a powerful drug treatment, PrEP, that can prevent HIV infection became available free of cost to British Columbians who are deemed to be at risk for contracting HIV. High-risk groups include men and transwomen who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and people who have unprotected sex with those living with HIV. Today the Province of BC announced that over 2,000 people have benefitted from this coverage.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been available to status First Nations people who are deemed to be at high risk of HIV infection for years. Yet very few First Nations people are taking PrEP.
PrEP includes the use of daily oral antiretroviral therapy (ART) by HIV-negative individuals. Made up of two of the medications originally used in the treatment of HIV infection, PrEP has now been shown to also be safe for the prevention of HIV infection—in fact, it is considered the "gold standard" of HIV prevention.
PrEP is available through the BC Centre for Excellence's (BC-CfE's) HIV Drug Treatment program, which is funded by the Ministry of Health through the BC PharmaCare program. PrEP for First Nations was previously covered by the Federal Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) plan. As today's announcement by Health Minister Dix shows, the approval of PrEP and expansion of its coverage by the BC Ministry of Health has been impactful.
While PrEP's effectiveness in stemming the transmission of HIV can range according to compliance, it has been shown to be up to 100% effective in some clinical trials. PrEP can help to significantly reduce the risk of contracting HIV infection. However, it is important to remember that PrEP does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections.
As an Indigenous physician, I recommend that Indigenous people have honest conversations with their doctors about risk factors and whether PrEP is right for them.
To be considered for PrEP, you must test negative for HIV and be re-tested every three months. Testing for hepatitis B and hepatitis C will also likely be a component of your initial assessment.
Please consider this HIV-prevention program if you are in a higher-risk group or are in a situation where you cannot control your possible exposure to HIV infection.
If you have additional barriers to accessing PrEP, such as lack of access to an HIV test, lack of privacy in a small community, lack of access to a health provider familiar with PrEP, lack of transportation—or follow-up issues—please contact your local health-care provider (i.e., community health nurse or physician) for this support and information about resources. Doing so could be an important step towards a healthier, longer life for you, your loved ones and your community.
Yours in Wellness,
Dr. Evan Adams, FNHA Chief Medical Officer
For more information about PrEP, see: