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HIV meds up $20m while prevention underfunded

Wed 8 Feb 2017 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback View at NDHA

While the government's funding of HIV prevention work has remained static since 2009, and actually dropped if inflation is taken into account, the annual cost to taxpayers of treating people contracting HIV has soared over that period. Government funding of the primary HIV prevention agency, the NZ AIDS Foundation, has been capped at approximately $4.5million since 2009. However, figures from the Government's medicines funding agency, Pharmac, show the cost of anti-retroviral treatments for people living with HIV, most of whom are gay and bisexual men, has soared from approximately $12 million in 2009 to over $32 million last year. That financial cost is likely to continue rising with 2015 seeing the highest number of new cases of HIV diagnosed per annum since the HIV epidemic emerged thirty years ago. Daily News understands the diagnosis total for 2016, due out soon, is unlikely to show a decrease. A 2013 analysis of Pharmac figures by independent public policy research company Covec, provided to Daily News following an Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Health, estimated that every person receiving HIV medications costs the public purse over $13,000, at 2013 rates, per year for the rest of their life. The costs to the country of health care such as monitoring by GPs and HIV specialists, and lost productivity due to lessened ability to work, are additional to this figure. When treatment, lost income and loss of quality of life costs and valuations are added up Covac suggests the overall cost of having HIV over the life of any gay or bisexual man from age 20 through to 67 is in the region of $400,000. After several years of detailed research and strategising the NZAF has embraced the World Health Organisation's goal of halting all transmission of HIV and has launched a comprehensive Ending HIV programme which will be focal point of this Sunday's Big Gay Out community picnic and party day in Auckland. However, increasingly concerned HIV and public health insiders say that to pull off Ending HIV successfully the NZAF needs a higher level of funding than the Government has made available in recent years. Speaking on condition they not be identified as they directly or indirectly rely on government funding for their work to continue, they say they cannot fathom the government spending over $32m a year "and rising" for "expensive medications at the bottom of the cliff" while prevention programme funding effectively decreases and the core GAPSS/GOSS behavioural study was not considered sufficiently high priority by the Ministry of Health to be funded this year. More outspoken public health researchers such as Dr Peter Saxton of Auckland University have long warned of the dangers of “under-investment” in HIV prevention to counter the increasingly complex social and sexual environments through which HIV is increasingly spreading. “The NZAF is operating a deficit budget for the third year running and this is simply not sustainable into the future,” says that organisation's Executive Director Jason Myers. “We are arguably at the most critical junction in HIV prevention that the country has seen but the sector must be funded sufficiently to maximise the opportunity that is before us," Meyers says. "As HIV diagnoses rates increase and the cost of treating individuals living with HIV soars the time to act is now.”    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Wednesday, 8th February 2017 - 10:27pm

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