Nova Scotians Need Improved Access to PrEP
By Kirk Furlotte - Regional Manager for the Atlantic Region, CBRC
Nova Scotians urgently need increased access to PrEP to reduce HIV incidence among the populations most heavily affected, including gay, bi, queer, and other men who have sex with men. This past summer, the Atlantic Canadian province saw a spike in new HIV cases, with 16 cases reported as of June – double what public health officials would expect at that point in the year.
In response, the CBRC has been supporting the Nova Scotia PrEP Action Committee (made up of concerned community members) to raise awareness of PrEP and push for universal and equitable access. This grassroots initiative has been collaborating with local stakeholders such as the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia, Sexual Health Nova Scotia, and Healing Our Nations to advocate to make PrEP access easier for Nova Scotians.
Increased awareness of PrEP’s benefits
CBRC and the Action Committee have been working to educate the public on the benefits of PrEP to increase knowledge and build the public case for universal access. With the support of Advance funding, the Action Committee launched PrEPNovaScotia.ca (modeled after Alliance partner EMHC’s own PrEPAlberta.ca) as a resource for Nova Scotians seeking more information on PrEP. During Halifax Pride, CBRC organized a panel discussion on PrEP with Dr. Matt Numer of Dalhousie University, Sex Now Survey manager Rob Higgins, infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett (a co-author on the Canadian PrEP Guidelines), and San Patten, an HIV researcher.
Addressing access gaps within Nova Scotia’s PrEP program
The provincial government has demonstrated an understanding of the benefits of PrEP and in July offered it to Nova Scotians through the provincial pharmacare drug plan. Yet most Nova Scotians will not qualify for these benefits, potentially those who need PrEP the most. Accessing PrEP through pharmacare can be a complicated process which means jumping through several hoops before even being able to fill aPrEP prescription. Applicants will need to provide proof of family income with their copayment and deductible set to a sliding scale wherein they pay the full amount at which they were assessed for the drug at the beginning of their membership and see the price slowly decrease. Only to start all over again at the start of each fiscal year (April 1). We need to make it easier for those at risk of HIV infection to be able to access PrEP.
On the political front, the Action Committee has presented to the provincial caucuses of the NDP and PC parties to educate key members on PrEP and its importance for public health. During the annual general meeting of the governing Liberal party in October, a resolution supporting universal PrEP coverage was introduced and passed. While attention to PrEP among politicians across the political spectrum is promising, we must remain vigilant in calling for broader and streamlined access to PrEP – access which isn’t tied to enrolment in pharmacare.
What’s next for PrEP in Nova Scotia?
CBRC and the Advance project will continue its work to increase education and awareness of PrEP – including reaching out to stakeholders in the healthcare field to support their capacity to provide PrEP and working with community partners to reach those who would benefit the most. Our push for PrEP will help gay, bi, queer, and other men who have sex with men access the sexual health services they need and reduce HIV transmissions.