Health minister announces HIV drug trial to begin in Bendigo in 2017

The expansion of an anti-HIV drug trial into Bendigo and other regional cities across Victoria is being heralded as a breakthrough in the fight to prevent the virus’ spread.

Victorian health minister Jill Hennessy will announce today 150 new places in the PrEPX trial for people living in regional Victoria who are at high-risk of acquiring the blood-borne virus. 

More than 2500 Melbourne residents have enrolled in the trial since July.

The program will give HIV-negative participants, most of whom are expected to be gay men, access to pre-exposure prophylaxis medication Truvada that, when taken daily, is almost certain to eliminate the possibility of contracting HIV. 

Ballarat, Shepparton, Wodonga and Mildura will also offer PrEPX places.  

The 20-month trial will cost the government $1.4 million and is expected to begin in Bendigo early next year.  

Bendigo Community Health Services’ sexual health clinic will administer the medication and HIV testing to participants, with the Victorian AIDS Council’s Loddon Mallee offshoot, VACountry, offering support. 

VAC chief executive officer Simon Ruth, whose organisation also partially funded PrEPX, said HIV was not a problem confined to capital cities. 

“Making this highly effective tool available to those individuals at risk in regional or rural settings is paramount if we’re going to see an end to new HIV notifications in Victoria and further afield,” he said.

Ms Hennessy will use her World AIDS Day address at the Burnet Institute – Australia’s largest communicable disease research institute – to announce the regional plan.

“We're working hard to reduce stigma and discrimination and promote diversity so Victorians can access the HIV prevention, treatment and care they need, sooner," she said in a statement. 

But the trial expansion was originally slated for roll out in September and when asked about the delay, a spokesperson from the health minister’s office said it had taken time to get ethics approval and build relationships with health services.

The Victorian government has lobbied its federal counterpart and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to subsidise the cost of Truvada as PrEP since an application from manufacturer Gilead was turned down in August.

PBAC deemed the PrEP proposal not economically viable.