Are You PrEPed?

NHS England to make available HIV-prevention drug

The HIV-prevention drug PrEP will be made available to 10,000 at risk people on the NHS in England, starting this year.  The drug, which can cut infection rates by up to 86%, will be given a three year trial in order to determine how best to target the right people, and how to expand the medication to all who need it.

This development follows a battle between the NHS and local authorities over who would be responsible for footing the bill, which the NHS lost, meaning they will have to cover the costs. The high court case was brought by the National Aids Trust, and the ruling was celebrated by LGBT groups as well as other at-risk groups.

PrEP works by reducing HIV’s ability to reproduce after it has been exposed to your body, and although more clinical tests are needed to truly determine its effectiveness, the science looks highly promising. Around 1 in 26 gay men in the UK have HIV, and evidence suggests that by reducing the infection rate through PrEP and therefore the cost of lifelong treatments, the NHS will actually save money in the long-term.  

However, this progress has not been welcomed by all, with some papers like the Daily Mail calling PrEP a “lifestyle drug”, as though being gay was a lifestyle choice. Critics claim the roll-out could encourage “sexual risk taking” when in fact it is an additional way to practice safe sex. Many of the same language that was used to attack the Pill when it first became available has been recycled to condemn a drug that has the capability to save lives.

Just as the Pill allowed women more sexual freedom, as well as numerous other benefits, PrEP may be able to allow the most at-risk groups to enjoy sex while minimising the risk of catching a potentially life changing disease.

So if PrEP could dramatically improve the lives of many, cut the infection rates of a devastating disease and, as a bonus, likely to save the NHS money in the long-term, why are many conservatives opposed? Could it be because gay sex is still stigmatised and treated as something to be ashamed of? In any case, it feels worth mentioning that everyone with HIV is innocent.

[Louise Wylie]

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