Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV can now be prescribed in some Nova Scotia pharmacies as part of a first-of-its-kind pilot project led by Dalhousie University’s College of Pharmacy.
PrEP is a preventative medication against HIV, available as both a pill and an injection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can reduce the risk of getting HIV through sexual activities by 99 per cent and through drug injections by at least 74 per cent.
Pharmacists from 10 Nova Scotia pharmacies have prescribed the medication to 50 patients across the province, as part of a six-month study which began on Feb. 21.
Kyle Wilby, an associate professor within the Dal College of Pharmacy and the lead of the project, said the pilot project aims to expand community access to PrEP. Participating patients will also receive continued care throughout the study, in partnership with the Halifax Sexual Health Centre.
“It’s really about increasing access as a whole,” said Wilby.
Currently, PrEP is only available through a physician or nurse practitioner in Nova Scotia. Amidst a provincial shortage of primary care providers, PrEP prescriptions through community pharmacies would expand access to the medication. Upon completion of the study, the project team may apply to have pharmacies added to the list of government-funded prescribers for PrEP.
“Pharmacists can already prescribe for many other things such as contraception and urinary tract infections,” said Wilby. “Because PrEP is also indicated for populations that sometimes have difficulty accessing care such as LGBTQ populations and persons who inject drugs, we’re doing the study to see if pharmacists could be another prescriber of PrEP.”
Jonnie-Lyn Baron, the centre manager of health promotions at the Dalhousie Health and Wellness Centre, said in an email that the centre supports the project and hopes to see PrEP become more accessible.
“Student Health and Wellness Centre physicians, nurses and health promotion staff are very much in support of reducing barriers to care in the community via local pharmacies taking on PreP consult and prescribing, and helping to reduce barriers, create awareness and increase access to PreP for the greater Halifax community,” Baron stated.
For Dalhousie students, the project could mean both an increase in access to PrEP and a change in curriculum for pharmacy students.
Wilby said if the Nova Scotia government approves funding for PrEP prescriptions, it will be added to the doctor of pharmacy curriculum for pharmacy students at Dalhousie.
According to a Dal News article, Shoppers Drug Mart is funding the project through a $400,000 unrestricted research grant and is in partnership with the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia and other provincial health authorities and research centres.
In the article, Wilby said the project is about helping patients.
“I’m really proud that Dalhousie is able to lead this. I’m proud and humbled to be part of it,” said Wilby. “The pharmacy profession has a lot to offer, and we are ready to work with our health-care colleagues to help patients in any way we can.”
COVER PHOTO: Hannah Schneider