Singapore

Drugs used for HIV treatment now subsidised by MOH

Those eligible can get 16 antiretroviral drugs cheaper by up to 75%

Since 35-year-old Avin Tan was diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) 12 years ago, he has travelled to places like Bangkok or asked friends - through various channels - to obtain more cheaply two medicines he needs to take every day.

For more than three years, he has not switched to a newer drug with fewer side effects, as he cannot afford it.

So it was welcome news that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has added 16 antiretroviral drugs used for the treatment of HIV to its list of subsidised drugs as of last Tuesday, making them much more affordable for thousands of Singaporeans like Mr Tan.

Before this, it cost him more than $500 a month to buy the two drugs he needs daily, Truvada and Edurant.

HIV antiretroviral drugs work by suppressing the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids) from replicating in the body.

These drugs have been added to the Medication Assistance Fund here, which helps patients who cannot afford the medication.

All subsidised patients can purchase any of the 16 drugs 50 per cent or 75 per cent more cheaply here, depending on the patient's means-test status, MOH said.

Previously, those living with HIV could receive help from the Medication Assistance Fund on a case-by-case basis.

MOH told The Straits Times it regularly reviews subsidised standard and non-standard drugs to ensure they remain relevant to changes in the needs of the local population, medical practice and evidence of clinical and cost effectiveness.

"The inclusion of 16 antiretroviral drugs on Sept 1 is part of this regular review," it said.

Groups that work with HIV patients have long asked for antiretroviral drugs to be subsidised. With their inclusion at last, Mr Tan, who is advocacy and partnerships manager at non-profit organisation Action for Aids (AFA), will be consulting his doctor soon about switching to the newer medication with fewer side effects.

Subsidising these drugs also assures their safety, Mr Tan said. "By making it possible for the drugs to be bought from hospitals, it allows for quality control and removes a lot of guesswork when we buy the drugs from other sources."

Ms Sumita Banerjee, executive director of AFA, lauded the move, saying it will help to not only normalise HIV but also reduce transmission.

"Subsidies allow people to adhere to treatment. This improves treatment outcomes and quality of life... A person who is on treatment and has acquired viral load suppression cannot transmit HIV, and so it is also important for HIV prevention," she said.

MEDICAL & HEALTH