Prime Minister: HIV-preventing PrEP drugs ‘can make a difference’ and NHS should reach quick decision

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UK Prime Minister David Cameron has become one of the first world leaders to praise HIV-preventing Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis drugs – calling for a quick decision by the NHS to help reduce people’s chances of infection.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada can reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV by up to 99 percent, if taken daily.

The drug has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and is already routinely available to at-risk gay men in a number of countries, including the United States, Canada, France and Israel.

In the UK, NHS England is currently re-considering whether it should make the drugs available after initially seeking to stall the issue – after a pilot scheme showed the drugs were incredibly effective at reducing HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions today,  responding to a question from Tory backbencher Mike Freer, who chairs the All-Party Group on HIV.

Mr Freer, the MP for Finchley and Golders Green, said: “HIV infection rates in the UK are on the rise, and my right honourable friend will be aware that NHS England have refused to fund Pre-exposure Prophylactic treatment.

“Will my right honourable friend agree to meet with me and leading AIDS charities, so that we can review this unacceptable decision?”

Mr Cameron responded: “It’s right that [Mr Freer] raises this – it’s my understanding that NHS England are considering their commissioning responsibility.

“I want them to reach a decision on this quickly, in this month if possible, because there’s no doubt there is a rising rate of infection. These treatments can help and make a difference.”

“We are planning trial sites, we’ve investing £2 million to support these over the next two years. He’s right to raise this and I’ll make sure he gets the meetings he needs to make progress with it.”

Though he avoided explicitly advocating PrEP, Mr Cameron’s comments are the most positive yet from the UK government.

However, in a letter to HIV campaigners also released today, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the government still needed proof the drugs were cost-effective.

He said: “NHS England has agreed to carefully consider its position on the commissioning of PrEP. In the meantime, planning continues on the early implementer test sites.

“Whatever the commissioning arrangements for PrEP, decisions on its funding will depend on the full assessment of its clinical and cost effectiveness, its affordability and how it can be integrated with other HIV prevention efforts.”

Ex-health minister Norman Lamb has championed the issue, while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would go its own way on PrEP.