Labour’s Diane Abbott slams ‘homophobic’ media coverage of PrEP

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott has slammed “homophobic” media coverage of HIV-preventing drugs.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada can reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV by up to 92-99 percent if taken daily.

The drug is endorsed by the World Health Organisation and is available in a number of countries to at-risk groups including sex workers, gay men, and people in serodiscordant relationships.

Health experts say rolling out PrEP in the UK would be cost-effective if it leads to even a small reduction in HIV infections, as the lifetime cost of just one HIV infection can be up to £380,000.

NHS England had declined to make a decision on the drugs earlier this year, suggesting it was up to local councils – but the High Court yesterday ruled that NHS England is indeed responsible for commissioning the drugs after a challenge from an HIV charity.

The Daily Mail led with the story today, claiming that the use of the drug represents a “skewed sense of values” because it “encourages” risky sexual behaviour.

It claimed that the cost of the “£5000-a-year lifestyle drug” would mean that people would be denied cataract surgery due to the cost of the service, even though NHS England has carried out no official cost-effectiveness assessment of the drug.

Meanwhile, Channel 5’s Wright Stuff reported it as “£20M HIV DRUG FOR GAYS WHO WON’T USE CONDOMS.”

The stories inflated the cost of the drug by 10 times by using the price of branded medication. Generic PrEP drugs would cost less than £500 a year – and the total cost of an initial PrEP rollout is estimated as £10-20 million per year, with money saved in the long term due to the reduction in HIV infections.

Speaking to PinkNews, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott branded some of the media coverage of PrEP “homophobic”.

She said: “I am horrified by the homophobic media coverage of the court decision on PrEP.

“If it was any other life-saving drug the media would be applauding the campaigners who won the court victory.

“Instead they are claiming that gay men are taking NHS funding that properly belongs to more ‘deserving’ sick people. And homophobic assertions are made about gay men’s lives.

“It all shows how much homophobia is, just below the surface, in society.”