UK: Campaigners call for HIV prevention drugs to be made available on NHS

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

Campaigners have called for controversial HIV-preventative drugs to be made available on the NHS, after the CDC issued guidance recommending their use in the US.

Earlier this week, the US Centre for Disease Control updated its guidance, recommending Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) be used by anyone in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner, and by gay and bisexual men at risk of catching HIV.

According to studies, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by up to 90%, if preventative drugs such as Truvada are taken consistently.

In the UK, PrEP is currently the subject of a two-year Brighton-based experimental trial, but some campaigners have called for preventative drugs to eventually be made available on the NHS.

Yousef Azad, director of policy at the National Aids Trust, told the Independent: “We need as many effective prevention options as we can to reduce the spread of HIV, especially among gay men and other high risk groups.

“Condoms are essential and will remain essential but there is a prevention gap that condoms are not meeting.

“We don’t think [PrEP] is a silver bullet, but all the evidence suggests it could have an important role.

“Before we get it on the NHS, which is what I think we should have, we should make sure through the PROUD trial that we’re confident about some of these unanswered questions.”

The preventative drugs are a divisive issue, as there are fears that they could wrongly be seen as a replacement for condoms.

The drugs must also be taken orally every day if they are to be effective, which US-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein previously claimed people were “unable” to do.

Weinstein also attracted criticism for labelling Truvada a ‘party drug’.

Justin Harbottle, the health improvement officer of Terrence Higgins Trust, said his fears were misplaced.

He told the Independent: “Whenever you get a new type of prevention launched, you get this moral angst around it, about the implications and questions over whether the existing preventions aren’t enough in themselves.

“It’s even been compared to the female contraceptive pill.

“But if you’ve got any kind of health issue, there’s no one prevention method which is going to be ideal for everybody.

“For HIV, condom usage works for the vast majority of gay men but for others there is a real problem with adhering to that and PrEP is a completely different way to approach that problem.”