A local agency that provides HIV education and support says Alberta Health officials need to get behind a promising new treatment that has been shown to help prevent the transmission of the virus.
Uninfected people are prescribed Truvada — a combination pill containing the antiretroviral drugs tenofovir and emtricitabine — to be taken prior to having unprotected sex.
This use of an anti-HIV drug to prevent infection is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis — or PrEP.
Ivan Grabovac says his fear of contracting HIV disappeared as soon as he started taking PrEP in July.
“Even with regular condom use there was always that thought at the back of my mind, it might break, it might slip off, something might happen.”
The treatment has been approved in the U.S.
In Canada, the drug has been approved as a treatment medication, but using it for prevention is called an “off label” prescription. Some doctors prescribe it and some insurance companies cover the cost, anywhere from $800 to $1,200 a month.
Andrea Carter, a spokeswoman with HIV Community Link, said health officials need to educate themselves about its potential to save lives.
“Our biggest concern is who is going to pay for it because the risk here is we have a solid, effective prevention technology that is only accessible by affluent people.”
Public health system and insurance companies should pick up the cost, she said. Some private insurance cover it, but Carter says most people at risk don’t have that option.
“Some of the populations most at risk for HIV are, you know, people who already lack access to resources and already lack access to traditional resources. So it would be really unfortunate if it wasn’t made accessible to some of the highest needs populations.”
Carter says health officials need to do their homework and develop a policy around the drug.
Alberta Health officials issued a brief statement to CBC News.
“We are aware that this drug has been approved for this use in the states. At this time, it is not approved in Canada, but we are monitoring what is happening in other jurisdictions,” said spokesman Timothy Wilson.