The Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) is launching a pilot project to give gay men who may have been exposed to HIV free treatment to prevent infection.
Until now, gay men who may have been exposed to HIV during consensual sex have had to pay between $1,000 and $1,500 for the medication, called a post-exposure prophylactic (PEP.) Now, they’ll be able to access PEP at no cost at the Centretown Community Health Centre’s Gay Zone and the city-run Sexual Health Centre.
OHTN is putting up $51,000 to launch the project in conjunction with Ottawa Public Health (OPH,) The AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) and the Ottawa Hospital. OHTN receives the majority of its funding from the government of Ontario.
“We’re supposed to be preventing infection,” says OPH nurse Marie Roy, who conceived the project last summer. “[PEP] was already available yet difficult to access. By bringing it to the community level, we are hoping to increase accessibility.”
HIV prevention medication is not something someone should have to visit a hospital to access, says project lead Dr Patrick O’Byrne, of the University of Ottawa. He thinks PEP should be readily available at community-based health centres.
“Our goal was to move beyond a biomedical approach to PEP, where we say, ‘Here are your pills; go buy them if you can and then continue taking them by yourself, and we’ll see you back in three months,’” O’Byrne says.
In addition to providing PEP free of charge, the program will offer gay men the option to seek counselling through the ACO or OPH during their course of PEP and after testing. “We’ve created this more comprehensive system where if people want support it is available in different ways,” O’Byrne says.
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