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HIV Update

Toronto Pharmacist Fighting to Make Anti-HIV Drugs Cheaper, More Accessible

June 16th, 2017 at 2:11 pm

A Toronto pharmacist is pushing to make a generic equivalent of an expensive anti-HIV drug cheaper and more accessible to the public and especially to gay men.

Michael Fanous works primarily with the LGBT community in Toronto. He says around 25 per cent of gay men in Toronto are infected with HIV and another 85 per cent of sexually active gay men are at risk of getting the virus.

Taking preventative medication called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, can dramatically reduce the risk of contracting HIV if taken every day as prescribed. But Fanous has found through his conversations with those he works with, largely gay and bisexual men, that not everyone feels they can easily access it.

“We can prevent HIV with this medication but the number one reason many men don’t take it is the cost,” he said.

Currently, PrEP is sold by pharmaceutical giant Gilead under the brand name Truvada.

On a regular basis, Fanous is having conversations with people in the community, especially gay and bisexual men, about the drug and its benefits.

Part of his outreach includes raising awareness among doctors, who he says advocate for testing and treatment of HIV rather than educate and suggest effective prevention strategies like PrEP.

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Ryan Lisk with the AIDS Committee of Toronto says PrEP is currently only accessible by people who have money and good benefit plans. (Devin Heroux/ CBC)

Ryan Lisk, a manager of community health programs at the AIDS Committee of Toronto, says PrEP costs around $1,000 a month.

He says the hope is that its generic equivalent will be available as soon as July. And if all goes according to plan, he hopes, it will cost a quarter of that amount.

“The challenge that gay men are having is that it becomes accessible only for people who have money and great benefit plans… So this is a huge game-changer for gay men,” he said.

Ron Rosenes has been living with HIV for most of his life. He says the community of gay men could greatly benefit from a cheaper equivalent to PrEP.

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Activist Ron Rosenes says the local community of gay men needs more affordable access to PrEP or an equivalent. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

“We need access to affordable PrEP,” he said. “We need it to be available in this province and across the country to the people most at risk and we need it to be prescribed by a wide variety of healthcare providers.”

For Fanous, the fight is personal as well as professional. He himself takes the drug every day.

“This is my community, these are my friends, partners and family members that are affected by HIV,” Fanous said. “I’m at risk myself as a gay man of being infected with HIV.”

 

 

 

Rethinking Justice: 7th Symposium on HIV, Law & Human Rights

June 6th, 2017 at 2:32 pm

The Canadian Legal AIDS Network is holding its seventh symposium on HIV, law and human rights in Toronto, Thursday June 15, 2017.  This year’s symposium will be focusing on the unjust criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. Some of the discussion topics include; Voices Rising: Speaking out about the experience of HIV criminalization. Science of HIV transmission: Recent applications and emerging issues. Advocacy and the ways forward are also on the agenda.

To attend this important event register here.

 

 

 

 

 

Ontario’s HIV/AIDS Strategy to 2026

February 2nd, 2017 at 10:23 am

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The Ontario Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS (OACHA) has developed a strategy HIV/AIDS Strategy to 2026: Focusing Our Efforts – Changing the Course of Prevention, Engagement and Care Cascade in Ontario.

It was developed in consultation with a broad range of HIV/AIDS stakeholders, including people living with HIV and those from priority populations who are at-risk of HIV, people working in community-based HIV organizations (like ACNBA) and programs, HIV clinical care services and public health units.

It includes a report on the state of progress and the remaining challenges in the response to HIV in the province, and a series of recommendations on how to ensure the response to HIV in Ontario can fully capitalize on scientific advancements in HIV prevention, care and treatment. Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, supports this strategy and the ongoing work of implementing the recommendations, work that will continue to be supported through long-standing collaborative relationships between the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, people with and at-risk of HIV, and HIV community and health services and research stakeholders.

 

For more on the strategy, go to HIV/AIDS Strategy to 2026.

 

 

HIV Disclosure Double Jeopardy

January 17th, 2017 at 11:32 am

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Many people living with HIV in Canada live in fear of potential unfair criminal prosecutions. Their future is finally looking a little brighter.

In a statement that mostly flew under the radar, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould declared, on World AIDS Day (December 1), her government’s intention “to examine the criminal justice system’s response to non-disclosure of HIV status,” recognizing that “the over-criminalization of HIV non-disclosure discourages many individuals from being tested and seeking treatment, and further stigmatizes those living with HIV or AIDS.”

Wilson-Raybould also stated that  “the [Canadian] criminal justice system must adapt to better reflect the current scientific evidence on the realities of this disease.”

This long-overdue statement was the first from the government of Canada on this issue since 1998, the year the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision on R v. Cuerrier, the first case to reach the high court on the subject.

That ruling established that people living with HIV could be criminalized for failing to disclose their HIV status to a partner prior to sex that could pose a so-called “significant risk” of HIV transmission.

In a subsequent 2012 decision, the Supreme Court changed the legal threshold by establishing a duty to disclose before sex that could pose a “realistic possibility” of HIV transmission.

In effect, the law was actually made harsher. In defining this new standard, the Supreme Court and most other courts, police and Crown prosecutors failed to properly consider current scientific evidence about transmission risks, which are far lower than most understand – especially when a condom is used or an HIV-positive partner has a low or undetectable viral load, usually as a result of effective treatment. It is now well established that HIV treatment not only allows people to live a long and healthy life, but also prevents new infection.

Wildly diverse interpretations of the law, however, have ended in people being convicted of aggravated sexual assault and going to prison for engaging in sex that in reality posed negligible to no risk to their partners.

Simple disclosure was thought to be an easy fix. But when being HIV-positive can still mark a person for overt discrimination and physical violence, disclosure remains anything but simple, especially for those on whom criminalization has a disproportionate impact: women, Indigenous peoples, migrants and members of African/Caribbean/Black communities.

Wilson-Raybould’s commitment to exploring change is important. Federal and provincial governments must take action to limit the scope and application of the criminal law in cases of HIV non-disclosure, in keeping with best practices and international recommendations. Canada is out of step with human rights principles and the broad scientific consensus surrounding HIV.

The use of the criminal law should be limited to cases of intentional transmission of HIV. Given what we know from science, in no circumstances should the criminal law be used against people living with HIV who use a condom, practise oral sex or have condom-less sex when they have a low or undetectable viral load.

We also need to do away with the practice of laying sexual assault charges in cases of HIV non-disclosure. It is misguided to equate HIV non-disclosure with the force and threats that normally define our understanding of sexual assault. Labelling people living with HIV as sex offenders is a stigmatizing misuse of this law.

In practical terms, there are some important ideas that the minister, and her provincial counterparts who are responsible for enforcing the law, can act on right now.

First, we’re calling for an immediate moratorium on all prosecutions in cases of HIV non-disclosure (unless there is alleged intentional transmission of HIV) while we’re exploring law reform options and working with the provinces to establish much-needed prosecutorial guidelines to limit the current misuse and overextension of the criminal law.

Second, the responsibility to recognize that things have gone seriously awry with our criminal justice system does not stop with the feds. Provincial attorneys general should immediately publicly state their commitment to ending the overly broad application of the criminal law in cases of HIV non-disclosure.

Third, we need ongoing meaningful dialogue that must always include people living with HIV, human rights advocates and scientific experts.

The minister’s commitment is one New Year’s resolution that we need to see come to fruition in 2017.

Cécile Kazatchkine is a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Ryan Peck is executive director of the HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario. Both are active members of the Ontario Working Group on Criminal Law and HIV Exposure (clhe.ca).

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Petition to Have PrEP Listed on Ontario’s Public Drug Program

July 13th, 2016 at 10:55 am

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SEE ADDED LINK: PrEP is a pre-exposure drug regimen which has proven effective in preventing HIV infection.  The only drawback is the cost of the drug used. Truvada, recently approved by Health Canada earlier this year, can cost as much as a $1,000 per month. Very few private insurance companies are covering its cost for clients. A provincial group of stakeholders has launched “List PrEP Now”, a push to have Ontario Minister of Health, Dr. Eric Hoskins, list Truvada on Ontario’s Public Drug Program, thereby covering the cost of the drug provincially. If you wish to support this petition or want more information go to www.prepontario.org.