The New Zealand Aids Foundation has welcomed a decision by Pharmac(the Pharmaceutical Schedule agency) to subsidize two new HIV drugs. At the same time, they say delays over the funding may shorten some sufferers' lives.
The two new medicines, to be subsidized from April 1, 2007 are Tenofovir (Viread) and emtricitabine (Emtriva), Pharmac announced.
According to Pharmac's medical director Dr Peter Moodie the investment would cost about $1.5 million over five years, and up to 159 HIV patients would be eligible for treatment within three years.
While Tenofovir and emtricitabine are similar to drugs already funded by the drug agency, funding them is important because HIV can become resistant to existing treatments, says Moodie.
Tenofovir is reported to have fewer side effects for some patients.
Says Aids Foundation positive health manager Eamonn Smythe: "In New Zealand, tenofovir was approved by (medicines regulator) Medsafe in November 2005, but HIV-positive patients have been unable to access it sooner due to delays in Pharmac and manufacturer Gilead reaching a suitable funding compromise."
Smythe reports HIV as a complex virus, which changes rapidly and necessitates new medications, to be made available to sufferers quickly, after testing and approval.
"Delays of this kind can affect the quality of life, and even life expectancy, of HIV-positive patients," he re-iterates.
According to Aids Foundation estimates, just over 2000 people in New Zealand have been diagnosed with HIV, and the count is rising ,especially among gay and bisexual men.
"One hundred and seventy seven new diagnoses were recorded overall in 2006, the second-highest number ever reported in New Zealand for a single year," says Smythe.
Smythe also added that the two new drugs caused nausea, vomiting and fatigue, though considerably lower than other HIV drugs.
"Living with the side effects of HIV medication is not always an easy ride, despite the advances made in recent years," says Smythe.
Yet, prevention is better than cure or treatment, in this case.
" For HIV-negative people, it's important to remember that avoiding infection in the first place is still the best weapon we have against HIV (which) means always using condoms', Smythe advises.