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If you are unable to access HIV treatments through the PBS

If you are unable to access HIV treatments through the PBS[Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme] The federal government program which subsidises medication costs in Australia. Anti-HIV drugs are part of a special part of the PBS called Section 100 (S100) which is used for expensive, highly specialised drugs., you have limited options for treatment during your visit to Australia, all of which come with some cost.

Find a treating doctor

In order to obtain treatments you will need a prescription from an appropriately qualified doctor. You will also need to monitor your treatments and deal with any side effects or other health issues, and your treating doctor will do this.

HIV antiretroviral drugs can only be prescribed in Australia by:

  • doctors who work in large public hospitals; 
  • doctors who work in public sexual health clinics; and 
  • specially-trained, community-based, general practitioners (GPs) known as ‘HIV s100 prescribers’. 

Ideally, the doctor you choose to look after you should know all about HIV plus have some experience working with people in situations similar to your own.

Doctors who are based in large public sexual health clinics are often used to seeing clients from overseas. Many of these doctors understand the issues faced by new residents in Australia. Some HIV s100 prescribers speak languages other than English and/or specialise in helping people from particular culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Some clinics are free and some are not. Make sure you ask about any costs involved when you first ring up to make an appointment.

How to access antiretroviralsA medication or other substance which is active against retroviruses such as HIV. without a Medicare card

If you’re not entitled to subsidised treatment, you will have to pay for the cost of having your prescription filled. There are two ways you can do this.

Through a hospital pharmacy

If you have a prescription from an HIV s100 prescriber, you can have it filled through a hospital pharmacy, but you will have to pay the full cost of the drugs. Some pharmacies may also charge an additional dispensing fee.

The HIV treatments that are available through hospital pharmacies are limited to those available under the PBS, and do not include low-cost generic versions of the drugs. While the cost of treatments in Australia is lower than many other developed countries, it is still very expensive. A month’s supply of a typical recommended antiretroviral combination will cost about $1000 when dispensed in this way.

To get an idea of the full price for one month’s supply, you can look up the cost on the PBS website. Enter the brand name of the drug (e.g. Truvada) or the generic name (e.g. lopinavir)  in the search engine at the top of the page. The price is displayed in the search results under ‘Price ex manufacturer’.

Import cheaper, generic versions of the drugs from overseas

This process is legal in Australia and many people choose this option.

There are a number of businesses operating on the internet but one which has a good reputation is a Canadian-based company called AIDS Drugs Online.

The method is reasonably simple. You can shop for your antiretroviral drugs online and either order and pay online or by mail.

These sites require a prescription from your doctor and also for you to sign a Patient Release Form which you then fax, mail or email to the company along with your order. They will confirm your order and then mail the drugs to you.

What about blood tests?

One of the first things your new doctor will want to do is run some blood tests. This is an important part of your healthcare and will accurately determine the sort of treatment you require.

If you are starting treatment for the first time or changing treatments, another blood test is normally done one month after starting the drug. From then on tests are normally required every three months.

Whether you are charged for these tests or not will depend on the doctor you see. It’s a good idea to ask about these charges when you make your first appointment. Some doctors at public hospitals or in public sexual health clinics can arrange to have CD4 counts and viral loadA measurement of the quantity of HIV RNA in the blood. Viral load blood test results are expressed as the number of copies (of HIV) per milliliter of blood plasma. tests done for little or no charge.

How to access HIV antiretroviral treatment and care in Australia

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The article you are viewing is part of the larger (multi-page) resource How to access HIV antiretroviral treatment and care in Australia.

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Online-only resource. Printed copies of this resource are not available.

This Resource was first published on 1 May 2010 — more than three years ago.

While the content of this resource was checked for accuracy at the time of publication, NAPWHA recommends checking to determine whether the information is the most up-to-date available, especially when making decisions which may affect your health.