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Labour and Lib Dems make election pledge for wider access to HIV drug

Published on 02/12/19 at 11:46am

The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have both pledged to roll out access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) therapy for the prevention of HIV to anyone who needs it in England.

PrEP is for people who do not have HIV but are at a very high risk of contracting the disease. This drug is highly effective in preventing HIV, reducing the chance of contracting it through sex by about 99% when taken once a day.

Even if someone is exposed to HIV, taking PrEP can work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection.

Speaking ahead of Worlds Aids Day on 1 December, Sharon Hodgson, Labour’s spokeswomen for public health, said: “No-one should be turned away from this revolutionary drug in the fight against HIV.”

The Liberal Democrats have also pledged that anyone who needs the drug in England should be able to get it for free. This is in contrast to the Conservatives, who are adhering to a 2016 High Court ruling that went against NHS England’s argument that local authorities were responsible for preventive services like PrEP.

After the ruling, the PrEP impact trial was established which has already given the drug to 15,700 people. However, there are reports of people struggling to gain a place on the trial, and there are men diagnosed with HIV who cannot get access to the treatment.

Mark Lewis, of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said:  "In parts of the country, PrEP trial sites have closed to gay and bisexual men due to being oversubscribed. This is putting these men at increased risk of HIV and is simply unsustainable. After the election we need to see immediate progress."

Dr Tristan Barber, Chairman of the British Association of Sexual Health’s HIV special interest group said that funding PrEP makes financial sense as “the cost of treating HIV over a lifetime is about £250,000. The cost of PrEP, a generic drug, is approximately £16 per month”.

The PrEP impact trial is set to end in late 2020.

Conor Kavanagh

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