Here’s what you need-to-know: A pill that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection will be given to patients by the NHS, it was announced yesterday.
NHS England and Public Health England said in a statement that at least 10,000 people will be given the drug over the next three years as part of a large-scale clinical trial. Once the trial is compete, its results will be used in “paving the way for a full roll-out” of the treatment.
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This is after the health service lost a court battle arguing that paying for such a drug should fall to local authorities and not the NHS, despite strong evidence of the drug’s effectiveness. But this prompted the National AIDS Trust (NAT) to take legal action in the hope of getting PrEP made available.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT said:
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How much of a problem is HIV?
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, around 103,700 people are living with HIV in the UK. Of these, 17% are undiagnosed and don’t know they are infected. There were 6151 new HIV diagnoses in 2014.
How does PrEP work?
PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV medication that keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected. People take a single pill every day. The medication interferes with the virus’s ability to copy itself in the body after a person has been exposed to it, so they don’t get infected.
There’s strong evidence it will save lives
In a large UK trial, called the PROUD study, where HIV negative men who have sex with men were offered the daily pill, it was found to be an effective way to prevent HIV infection. The results showed the treatment reduced the risk of infection for this group by 86%.
But it will also save money
PrEP will save money by preventing future HIV infections. For each individual who acquires HIV, the personal impact is considerable. And the cost to the NHS is also very high – one person’s treatment over their lifetime costs around £360,000.
Why has this decision been controversial?
Critics of PrEP being made available on the NHS suggest that taking a daily pill to protect people from HIV would result in people adopting more risky behaviours or not bothering to use condoms. Some people are worried rates of other STIs will therefore increase.
But the PROUD study provided strong evidence that PrEP made no difference to such risk-taking. The levels of other STIs were almost the same in the group given PrEP and the group who did not have the drug. Condom use was also practically the same in both groups.
In the meantime…
If you think you may be at risk of HIV, you should get tested at your local sexual health clinic. Alternatively, a number of home HIV tests are now available – Some give results in seconds.