In a rare move, the entire HIV sector in the UK has called on the National Health Service to provide the drug Truvada as part of a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment programme.
Buzzfeed reports that in a letter to The Times newspaper, every major HIV organisation, along with leading clinicians and prominent activists, have demanded that NHS England seizes the opportunity to radically reduce the number of new infections by making the treatment, called PrEP, available to those most likely to contract HIV. “The government must now make PrEP available to people at high risk in England,” the letter says. “Every day this is delayed, at least seven people will be infected with HIV.”
The intervention comes just three days before a critical turning point in the fight for the drug – which is already available in France, Canada, Kenya, Israel and the US – and what could be a pivotal moment in the history of the virus. A meeting is taking place this week of NHS England’s Specialised Services Committee to decide whether PrEP (which stands for) is NHS England’s responsibility and if the organisation can fund it.
The full text of the letter in The Times reads:
“A drug now exists that prevents HIV: pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). When taken correctly, it is nearly 100 per cent effective. But NHS England is standing in the way of utilising this remarkable breakthrough. After 18 months of delays, David Cameron has now committed NHS England to giving an answer on PrEP imminently.
“As the decision looms, arguments against PrEP are running out of steam. Men accessing the drug in trials have not shown an increase in sexually transmitted infections. The NHS spends 50 times more on HIV treatment than prevention.
“PrEP, alongside condom use, has enormous potential to reduce HIV transmission. It is available in the US, France and Kenya. The government must now make PrEP available to people at high risk in England. Every day this is delayed, at least seven people will be infected with HIV.
“NHS England will decide on Tuesday if PrEP should be considered for funding. This could be a critical turning point in the fight against HIV – it must not pass us by.”
The report says the letter is signed by, among others, the Terence Higgins Trust, the National Aids Trust, the British HIV Association, GMFA, Positively UK, and the European Aids Treatment Group, as well as some of Britain’s most eminent HIV doctors, including Professor Sheena McCormack, who conducted the groundbreaking trial into PrEP.
The report says if NHS England’s meeting concludes that PrEP should not be made widely available, the organisation could face a battle in the courts. “We will still be watching and willing to instigate legal action at a later date if we aren’t successful in their reconsideration in May,” Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, is quoted in the report as saying. “We’re not walking away from this.”Full Buzzfeed report