The Malta Independent 24 September 2020, Thursday

New HIV medication confirmed, estimated to be used by all patients by end of 2020

Karl Azzopardi Thursday, 6 August 2020, 16:29 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Health Ministry has confirmed that it will be introducing a new and more modern type of HIV medication, the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) said in a Facebook post on Thursday, and it is estimating that all patients will be using it by the end of 2020. 

“We are delighted to announce that in a meeting with the Minister for Health, it was confirmed that new HIV medication will start replacing the out-dated regimen that is currently being dispensed,” MGRM’s post read.

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The organisation believes that this is great news not only for people living with HIV, but also for society as a whole. “Better medication means a much lower risk of HIV transmission, and a better quality of life for plHIV.” 

Speaking to The Malta Independent, Coordinator of HIV Malta Joe Grima, said that the during their meeting with Health Minister Chris Fearne, the organisation discussed LGBITQ+ healthcare in general while delving into sexual health as well. 

“We had heard from sources within pharmaceutical companies about new medication being introduced but the Minister confirmed that an agreement has been signed with several suppliers and pharmaceuticals that represent the main suppliers of HIV medication and orders will be made in the next few months,” Grima explained. 

Fearne estimated that everyone will be on the new medication by the end of the year.  

Grima said that the current treatment for the virus in Malta is generic and several years old to the point that it had been removed from the recommended medications for people with HIV. 

He explained that with the new medication, patients will be able to, ideally, take just one pill a day which is a stark contrast from the 6 to 8 pills that patients had to take with previous medication. However, this depends on the level of resistance in one's body. 

The main advantage of this medication is that the more modern a treatment is the lighter it is on the body, reducing side effects and future complications. “With the current medication, we were looking at people with incontinent issues and even their physical appearance changes in some instances.” 

The new medication does not cost the patient any money if they are Maltese or a European citizen living in Malta, however, it is not free for third-party nationals and this is not going to change at this point in time.

The current dated medication is also free but Grima explained that it was so bad that people were opting to buy more modern medication, so the new medication step is life changing for a lot of people. 

Asked if the preventative medication like PrEP and PeP, which have been a topic of much controversy due to their steep price tags, were discussed during the meeting, Grima confirmed that they were but there are no signs of movement. 

PrEP is not provided for by the NHS so people have to buy them from local pharmacies for €60 monthly or online for €30 monthly, and this has not changed. Notably, due to the pandemic, there are problems with postal orders so people have to resort to the more expensive local alternative. 

“We brought this to the Minister's attention but he said the 'they are not a priority for the Health Ministry at the moment'. The Minister said the same for PeP (which costs €600 euro) due to budgetary limitations as he is prioritising other areas which include COVID-19.” 

Grima explained that the treatment for already HIV positive persons does reduce the risk of transmission; however, it is not a guarantee. "This is a public health pandemic like any other if it is not a priority for the minister it is habitually a number one priority for us because our priorities are not exactly aligned." 

 

However, the fact that they had a meeting with the minister is already a major step forward as it is the first since last September on discussing LGBTIQ+ and HIV medical issues, he added.

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