It is in New Zealand’s interest to follow latest WHO guidelines on HIV/AIDS
The World Health Organisation has just released guidelines urging all countries to make HIV medications available to
people as soon as they are diagnosed. “New Zealand should urgently follow this advice,” said Shaun Robinson, Executive
Director, New Zealand AIDS Foundation. At present, New Zealand sets a threshold for access to HIV medicines based on how
much a person’s immune system has been damaged (the CD4 Threshold
set by PHARMAC).
Scientific evidence released from the international START trial
too proves that people have much better health if they get the medications as soon as they are diagnosed. Other
research has also shown that once medication has suppressed the HIV virus in the person, they have a dramatically
reduced chance of passing on HIV.
“This is a double benefit for the individual and for the whole community,” says Mr. Robinson. “The reduced costs from
less new infections will be in the millions and will far outweigh the cost of extra medication.”
New Zealand has been moving towards removing the threshold for accessing HIV medications for over a year. An expert
panel has recommended to PHARMAC that the CD4 Threshold be removed but so far this has only been given medium priority.
“It is time to act with urgency and get rid of the barriers to HIV treatment,” Mr. Robinson stated. “New Zealand must
keep up with the best practice outlined by the World Health Organisation.”
In the same document the World Health Organisation also recommends that the HIV medication tenofovir be provided to
people at very high risk of catching HIV. This approach, known as PrEP (pre- exposure prophylaxis) has been shown to
work for highly motivated individuals who resist other forms of safe sex. “The New Zealand AIDS Foundation supports the
targeted use of PrEP and believes it could help to reduce new HIV infections,” Mr. Robinson added. “We are working to
trial this approach in Auckland but there is no funding for PrEP in New Zealand.”
“If PrEP for people at high risk and immediate access to medication for those with HIV are combined with our high rates
of condom use in the gay community, we do have the potential to end HIV and AIDS in this country.” said Mr Robinson.
“Condoms remain critically important; all the evidence shows that despite new initiatives such as PrEP, if condom use
falls HIV will get worse. By putting condoms, PrEP and immediate treatment for HIV together, we will move forward. It is
time for the Government to step up and follow the World Health Organisations advice,” said Mr Robinson.