By: Emma Russell
Emma Russell continues her series charting the stories of former Whanganui students who have gone on to success in the big, wide world
A former Wanganui Collegiate School student is on the front line of a ground-breaking drug that she said could eradicate New Zealand’s alarming HIV rates.
For the past 16 years there has been national surge in HIV and about 3500 New Zealanders are living with the virus.
But Alice Hartley is adamant a new prevention drug formally known as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) may put a halt to the sexually transmitted disease.
Last month the 24-year-old completed her 45,000 word master’s thesis on PrEP in New Zealand.
Going under the brand name Truvada, the PrEP drug is a daily pill for people identified at risk of HIV.
According to the New Zealand Aids Foundation (NZAF) the drug reduces the risk of contracting HIV by at least 92 per cent.
Miss Hartley said the drug was approved by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012 but it had had a slow uptake because of the expense. The daily pill costs about $14,000 annually.
“There has been a few pilot demonstrations in New Zealand but apart from that very little research has been done – which is good for me because it gave me full reins to explore.”
Since 89 per cent of HIV in New Zealand is acquired by gay or bisexual men that was the audience Miss Hartley decided to focus on.
“[The University of Canterbury] has a gay/ bisexual club so I started by approaching them, but since other unis didn’t have the same sort of club it was limiting so I approached the online RainbowYOUTH forum and they were great.”
She put out a attitude-scaling survey asking at-risk people a range of questions including whether they would still have sex without condoms, would they consider the drug and what were their concerns.
“There was overwhelming support for the drug as an HIV prevention method from the survey participants.”
Miss Hartley also interviewed a number of clinical experts as part of her research.
“Most were in favour of the drug, some were worried that it might detract the use of condoms and there could be risk of STI rates rising.
“One comment that really stuck was: I don’t want to be on the sideline while history happens.”
Miss Hartley said at the moment someone can visit their doctor and get them to sign off a script and the drug can be imported elsewhere.
“But there is always risk in that because it’s not regulated and not as safe.”
Her thesis is currently being marked and could potentially be shown to the Ministry of Health.
The advice she would give students who are considering doing a masters was to pick a topic that you are really interested in.
“It is hard work and you have to be really invested and have an interest.”
Moving forward, Miss Hartley is off to do a six-week stint in Vienna volunteering to teach.
On her return she will begin her graduate job with a private public policy firm in Wellington.
Source: NZ Herald