PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis is the daily medicine that can reduce the chances of contracting HIV. However, despite promising results, in England it is currently not available on the NHS.
Targeted at HIV-negative people at high risk of contracting the virus, such as men who have sex with multiple men, people with an HIV-positive partner and injection drug users who share needles, when taken as prescribed, PrEP has been shown to cut rates of HIV infection. So why is it so controversial?
Those against its funding take the view that the NHS has a finite pot of money, and that there are already ways to protect yourself against contracting the virus.
However, the more liberal minded argue that, despite these protection methods being available rates of HIV infection are still rising among at risk populations. This highlights that current protection methods are not being adopted, which will ultimately end up costing the NHS more.
So where do I sit on the argument? People make unwise choices when it comes to their health every day. Some drink alcohol, some eat unhealthily, some take part in thrill-seeking sports, some do no sport at all and some take risks when they have sex. If a preventative method is available that could save thousands of new infections each year, I believe this should be funded by the NHS.
New real-world data from Public Health England is suggesting that, for the first time, new diagnoses of HIV have fallen among men who have sex with men in England and a particularly steep drop was seen in London. This drop has been attributed to many things including fast treatment with HIV therapy and the use of PrEP. In fact, in five London clinics trialing PrEP, new diagnoses of HIV in men who have sex with men fell by a massive 32% in 2014–2015.1
Despite it not being currently funded by the NHS in England, people are finding ways to access the treatment – either by paying for it themselves or by clinic hopping. Whilst I do not condone clinic hopping (the practice of visiting multiple clinics anonymously and concocting a story that enables you to obtain medical supplies), it does show the lengths people will go to in order to access a solution that works for them. For me, ultimately, that’s what medicine comes down to – treating the individual in the way that works best, which includes preventing disease in the most effective way possible.
1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40370381 Accessed July 2017.