Kiwi HIV patients 'denied access to medication'

NZAF says those newly diagnosed are being unfairly penalised (Getty)
NZAF says those newly diagnosed are being unfairly penalised (Getty)

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) says Kiwis with newly diagnosed HIV infections are being unfairly penalised by outdated policies denying them access to important medication.

Currently people diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand cannot access medication until their CD4 cell (white blood cell) count has dropped below 500. The count indicates the extent of the damage caused by the virus in HIV patients.

But NZAF says the CD4 threshold was developed two decades ago and needs to be reviewed by the Government.

"The outdated policy was developed when HIV treatments were considered too toxic and something to be avoided until absolutely necessary. But newer treatments are far less toxic," says NZAF Executive Director Jason Myers

NZAF says PHARMAC has designated early access to HIV medicines as a medium priority, but can't fund it yet.

"All the tools exist to manage HIV and prevent transmission, and making immediate treatment available to people diagnosed with HIV is one of them. It is a gross injustice that an individual should be denied treatment that both improves their health and has dramatic impact on their ability to pass on the virus," says Dr Myers.

Research shows that those who start treatment early are at least 50 percent less likely to develop cancers later in life.

It's also been proven that if a person living with HIV is on treatment there's a reduced risk of passing on the virus, reducing the risk of new infections.

The World Health Organisation released guidelines in 2015 urging all countries to make HIV medication available to people as soon as they're diagnosed.

NZAF wants the Government to remove the threshold for treatment access and has launched a petition asking PHARMAC to stop withholding access to HIV medicines that will improve health and reduce new infections.