Horwath hosts Pharmacare roundtable focused on tackling barriers to HIV prevention, treatment

Today, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath hosted a roundtable discussion with people living with HIV and leaders in the fight to improve access to HIV treatment and prevention in Ontario.

A key topic during the discussion was the cost of life-saving drugs to treat and prevent HIV, and the NDP Pharmacare plan. 

“Whether it’s PrEP or HIV treatment, we believe that no one should have to empty their wallet to get the medicine they need,” said Horwath. "I'm committed to implementing Ontario's first universal Pharmacare plan when the NDP forms government in 2018 - giving prescription drug coverage to everyone, regardless of age, income or health status.”

The NDP plan is based on the World Health Organization’s model of ensuring access to essential medicines. On June 6, the World Health Organization updated its list of essential medicines to include PrEP to help prevent HIV infection.

“Today’s discussion was a chance to hear from the community where the gaps in access are when it comes to prevention and to treatment,” said NDP LGBTQ2S Critic and Parkdale--High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo. “Our party has been focusing on improving the lives of LGBTQ2S Ontarians, we have a defined critic role at the legislature and we’ve led the fight on issues crucial to the community: banning conversion therapy, protecting gender identity and gender expression as a human right by law, introducing an historic motion to mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Queen’s Park. Now, we’re working to make sure that PrEP and HIV/AIDS treatments are accessible to everyone who needs them. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and I look forward to continuing to work with the community on this most important next step.”

One-third of people in Ontario who are employed do not have employer-provided medical benefits. Ontario’s existing patchwork of private employer-provided benefits plans and public drug benefit programs leave at least 2.2 million Ontarians with no drug coverage.

Horwath was joined by individuals living with HIV and representatives from the AIDS Committee of Toronto, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention, Canadian Treatment Action Council, Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment, and Peel HIV/AIDS Network, amongst others.

“It is essential that people living with HIV and hepatitis C in Canada have access to the right treatment, care, and support at the right time,” said Shelina Karmali, Executive Director of CTAC, the Canadian Treatment Action Council. “We were delighted to join the NDP’s roundtable discussion and support the idea of a universal Pharmacare plan as people should have access to life saving drugs according to need, not ability to pay.”

Too many members of the LGBTQ2S community are disproportionately impacted by lack of access to drug coverage, oftentimes making it extremely difficult for people living with HIV/AIDS to get access to the medications required to effectively manage the condition. 

“Access to medication for treatment and prevention of HIV is paramount in the fight to end new HIV transmissions. We know that despite decreasing numbers of new HIV diagnosis each year in Toronto, over 70% of new diagnosis are among gay, bisexual, and MSM; and the rest are among other marginalized and racialized groups,” said Ryan Lisk, Director of Community Health Programs at the AIDS Committee of Toronto. “In response to this reality, ACTs Pride campaign is about access to medications for prevention (PrEP) and the ways that effective treatment of HIV can prevent any risk of HIV transmission. We are very excited for increased and equitable access to medications for all those living with and at risk for HIV.”

“We know that LGBTQ2S individuals face many systemic barriers to living a healthy life,” said Horwath. “It’s time to address these head on – covering PrEP and HIV treatment drugs under a universal Pharmacare program will help to ensure that every member of this community can live well and stay healthy.”