What is PrEP and How Does it Work?

Here’s what you need to know about PrEP.

Update: PrEP has been listed on the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) as of April 1st 2018. Find out more up to date information about accessing PrEP here.

PrEP has become the talk of the town recently, as it’s the latest tool we have in the HIV prevention toolkit. Here’s what you need to know about PrEP.

What is PrEP?

PrEP is the less scientific term for pre-exposure prophylaxis. If you are nodding your head a little dumbfounded at this point, that’s ok! Let’s break it down; “prophylaxis” meaning “to prevent or control the spread of an infection or disease”, and “pre-exposure” – well that’s pretty self-explanatory. Basically PrEP is a new HIV prevention method in which people who do not have HIV take a pill daily to reduce their risk of becoming HIV infected. Pretty cool, huh?

The pill contains two antiretroviral medicines that are also used to treat people living with HIV to suppress the virus in their bodies to undetectable levels.

Why is it such big news for HIV prevention?

Since the advent of condoms there hasn’t been a tool as effective as PrEP. By taking PrEP daily you can reduce your risk of transmission by as much as 95%. The World Health Organisation earlier this year released new guidelines for HIV prevention;

“…(It is) recommended that men who have sex with men should at least consider pre-exposure prophylaxis with antiretroviral medications as an additional option to prevent HIV infection.”[i]

So you can see PrEP is of great significance for all gay men across the globe.

Is PrEP available in Australia?

The short answer is yes and no. Yes you are able to access PrEP in Australia, however no it is not currently licensed by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration – the government body which regulates the supply of medication) and therefore it is not available at a subsidised price through the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme).

There are a number of studies happening in Australia presently which are examining gay men’s attitudes towards PrEP and it is hoped these will help speed the TGA’s approval process. Additionally, a new study announced at World AIDS Day 2015 called EPIC NSW is due to launch by March 2016 with aims of enrolling 3,700 gay men living in NSW.

How is it working abroad?

PrEP has gone from strength to strength in the US, approved by their equivalent of the TGA (FDA) in 2012, and identified as a key part of the US National HIV/AIDS strategy[ii].

In a recent New York Times article  PrEP was pinpointed as one of the contributing factors changing the trend of new HIV diagnoses in San Francisco. The article also highlighted stigma experienced by PrEP users, an important talking point for our community as we seek to have PrEP made available Down Under. Encouragingly, the article indicates that this experience has diminished as uptake increases.

Where can I find out more information about PrEP?

Our PrEP Access resource provides the info you need if you are interested in accessing PrEP and if you are interested in enrolling in the EPIC NSW study, you can read more and express your interest here. If you have any lingering questions please feel free to ask us using our Ask Us tool.

[i] Nogrady, B. (2015). PrEP: the new ‘little blue pill’. ABC Health And Wellbeing, The Pulse. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2014/11/27/4137351.htm

[ii] Ghorayshi, A. (2015). Here’s What We Actually Know About The Pill That Prevents HIV. BuzzFeed. Retrieved 28 October 2015, from http://www.buzzfeed.com/azeenghorayshi/what-science-says-about-truvada

This article was updated: 21/06/18