HIV drug PrEP to be available across England

Local authorities will receive £16m in 2020 to 2021 to deliver the preventative HIV treatment PrEP health bosses have announced.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the funding will ensure anyone who is at a high risk of contracting HIV can receive PrEP from their local sexual health clinic to reduce their risk of getting the virus.

An estimated 103,800 people were living with HIV in the UK in 2018, with 7,500 of those unaware of their infection.

When taken daily, PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV transmission from sex or injection drug use. Studies have shown that PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken daily.

Ian Green, chief executive of HIV and sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trust, said PrEP is a game-changer for HIV prevention:

‘This is a historic day in the context of the HIV epidemic.

‘It’s a real moment to stop and celebrate a hard-fought victory for PrEP access in England.

‘Today comes at the end of years of fighting, campaigning and lobbying to ensure proper access to this game-changer for HIV prevention.

‘We know PrEP is highly effective at stopping HIV and now it can be properly utilised to make good on the Government’s commitment to ending HIV transmissions by 2030.

There is still also a lot of work to do to ensure PrEP isn’t just seen as something for gay and bisexual men and that its clear benefits reach other groups affected by HIV, including women, trans people and BAME communities.

‘As the country’s leading HIV and sexual health charity, we’re fully committed to playing our role to ensure no-one is left behind when it comes to PrEP – because we’re not making real progress if it’s not felt by everyone.’

Deborah Gold, chief executive of National AIDS Trust, said it will work to ensure women and trans people are able to access the medication.

‘We’re delighted PrEP will finally be freely available to everyone who needs it in England.

‘This is a milestone moment in a five-year battle National AIDS Trust, and others, have undertaken, including our 2016 court action against NHS England for failing to consider PrEP and HIV prevention as part of its obligations.

‘Routine commissioning of PrEP brings us one step closer to our goal of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030 but many more lie ahead.

‘We look forward to working with partners across healthcare and in the community to ensure underserved groups such as women and trans people are able to access this pioneering medication. Only when we reach every single person who needs PrEP can we harness its full potential.’

PrEP is currently available in England through a three-year PrEP impact trial, which has recruited more than 20,000 participants.

The new £16 million funding will also enable people on the trial to continue to use PrEP when the trial ends.

Health and Social Care secretary, Matt Hancock, said: ‘I remember when HIV was a death sentence – and still today, it has a devastating impact on so many lives across the country.

‘While it is encouraging to see HIV transmissions continue to fall across the UK, I am determined to do more, and end HIV transmission.

‘So we are rolling out PrEP and making it available across the country – with evidence showing it almost completely eradicates the chances of getting HIV. This will benefit tens of thousands of people’s lives, and drive us towards our ambition of zero HIV transmissions in this decade.’

NHS England will cover the costs of the drug and local authorities will be supported with £16 million funding to deliver services. PrEP is highly effective in preventing transmission of HIV.

As well as the provision of PrEP, HIV testing in a wide range of settings, increased condom use and the early starting of antiretroviral therapy in those living with HIV have all contributed to the drop in transmissions.

By the end of October 2020 access to PrEP through the PrEP Impact Trial is set to conclude and so the rollout will make the service available by routine commissioning for the people who need it most.

Photo Credit -DHSC

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