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Australia still leads New Zealand on HIV treatments

Sat 18 Jun 2005 In: HIV

The HIV treatment drug Kaletra is at last fully available in New Zealand, but we're still behind when it comes to treatment options, says Body Positive. Body Positive is delighted by the government pharmaceutical agency Pharmac's decision to subsidise the anti-HIV drug Kaletra, ending a situation which has seen some New Zealanders become seriously ill while waiting for the drug to be approved. Kaletra was previously only available for what was termed "salvage therapy", says Body Positive spokesman Bruce Kilmister. "People had to have failed a protease inhibitor before they could access Kaletra," he explains. "This was absolutely ridiculous because Kaletra's proven to be a very modern protease inhibitor which minimises side effects and has an exceptional record in not allowing resistance to build, which is a real concern for positive people when resistance builds to other drugs." The remaining concern is the length of time it took to get to this stage of approval – nearly two years – during which time HIV+ people in need of the treatment had, like former AIDS Foundation chairman Jonathan Smith, to spend thousands of dollars per month to import the drug, or move to Australia or Britain where Kaletra is funded under the public health system. Matt Whyte, a tireless NZAF worker who died last year of an AIDS-related illness, was another of the many who had exhausted all other treatment options and needed Kaletra. After being hospitalised, the severity of his illness eventually saw him get a special dispensation so he could access it. Unfortunately, Kilmister believes, it came too late. "Being too long without it allowed irreparable damage to be done to his immune system so that when he was finally able to access it, it did him no good," he says. Kilmister says around fifty to sixty people who are in need of Kaletra will now have access to it, but Body Positive is still worried that New Zealand is lagging when it comes to HIV treatment options. "We are still significantly behind Australia, which has at least another three drugs available that we don't have," he says. New Zealand and Australia have now reached an agreement which will see simultaneous regulation and approval of new medications, but the real delay comes not from approving the drug for use, but getting it approved by Pharmac for subsidy under the public health system. For those in New Zealand who have exhausted their treatment options, moving overseas to participate in potentially dangerous drug trials is the only choice left. "When you're at the end of all your options, believe me, you'll happily go onto a trial rather than face the consequences of not having anything available," says Kilmister. "Body Positive is aware of one or two people having to jump the ditch to Australia and be enrolled in trials which is the only way they can access new medications and existing medications." Chris Banks - 18th June 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Saturday, 18th June 2005 - 12:00pm

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