Julie Green, the NWT's health minister, appears at a news conference in 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The NWT government says it supports offering HIV prophylactic PrEP in principle but can’t commit to a date on which all residents will be able to receive it at no cost.
A movement led by Yellowknife resident Will Gagnon is seeking free access to PrEP, a pill that – taken once daily – is reported to be 99-percent effective in preventing infection if you are later exposed to HIV.
Gagnon says that kind of protection is vital to eliminating transmission of HIV at a time when the NWT is experiencing a sustained outbreak of syphilis, the transmission of which is often considered to be linked to HIV.
In the NWT, PrEP is sometimes covered by residents’ benefits – but often isn’t. When it isn’t, it can cost $250 or more per month, a sum beyond the reach of some people as inflation spirals.
Gagnon last month started a petition to have the NWT government fully cover the cost of PrEP for northerners, as he said is the case in Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
But speaking with Cabin Radio following a meeting with Gagnon last week, Green ruled out any immediate change in the territory’s approach.
“It just is not possible,” Green said of an instant shift. She said an ongoing review of how the NWT offers health benefits – a review just extended by several weeks following criticism of how some proposals were being communicated – had to conclude first.
“People have asked me to make immediate changes to things. I’m told that it’s not possible. And in the middle of a review of supplementary health benefits, which is supposed to wrap up in short order, it doesn’t make any sense now to start freelancing and putting things in,” the minister said.
“It’s nothing about PrEP, it’s about the process. PrEP is good. I understand it saves lives. We are looking forward to offering it to the wider population, including the 2,200 people who don’t have any health benefits. We will do this, but we’re not doing it on your schedule.”
Green expects the benefits review to be complete in several months’ time, but added: “I don’t have a timeline for PrEP.”