VICTORIA, B.C.- British Columbians at high risk of HIV infection will be getting more protection, starting January 1st.

The province has announced that residents at high risk will be able to get pre-exposure medication, at no cost. The treatment, known as PrEP, is a daily oral antiretroviral medication that prevents new HIV infection.

In a statement released this morning, Minister of Health Adrian Dix said, “our government is committed to helping fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and supporting people as they take action to protect themselves from the virus.”

“Making the medication free for people will prevent new HIV infections, remove barriers to care and services, and help people live longer and healthier lives.”

Daily use of PrEP is recommended by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) as an effective way to prevent HIV in people at high risk of infection.

The government release stated that people at risk include men and transwomen who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and people who have sex with individuals living with HIV.

Although HIV/AIDS-related deaths in British Columbia have gone down by more than 90 per cent since 1996, new cases of HIV continue to crop up. The releases noted that in 2015, there were 5.1 new diagnoses of HIV per every 100,000 people in B.C.

The province said that increased access to PrEP will help prevent new HIV infections. It will be available through the BC Centre for Excellence’s HIV Drug Treatment program.

The program is funded by the Ministry of Health through B.C. PharmaCare.

In addition to the PrEP becoming available, the provincial government is expanding the existing PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) program to include coverage for non-occupational exposure.

The publicly-funded program is a way to make sure British Columbians who are not taking PrEP, but who are exposed to HIV, have immediate access to PEP in order to prevent a new infection.

For more on the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, visit its website.