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Row over HIV prevention drug Prep

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Charities say NHS England’s “eleventh hour decision to pull the plug” on game-changing HIV prevention drugs is leaving people at risk.

The medication- known as Prep – has been shown in UK studies to reduce the chances of people getting HIV.

Charities claim they had expected it to start being rolled-out later this year.

But NHS England officials, who had been involved in early discussions about Prep, say providing it is not their responsibility.

Instead they say under health regulations, preventative medicine (rather than treatment) falls to individual local authorities to consider.

Meanwhile NHS England says it will offer £2m worth of funds to treat around 500 people over the next two years.

It says the money, which local authorities will be able to bid for, will help them consider the overall feasibility and cost-effectiveness of offering the drugs.

Prep (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is intended for healthy people who are at high risk of getting HIV. This would include, for example, men who have sex with multiple male partners without using condoms.

The medicine is already available to certain groups in the US, France, Israel, Canada and Kenya.

And a recent trial by the UK’s Medical Research Council and Public Health England showed that giving the drugs to healthy gay men at risk, led to an 86% fall in new infections.

Charities describe the approach as a game-changer and argue the decision by NHS England fails those who are vulnerable to HIV.

Dr Michael Brady, medical director at the charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “For the last 18 months charities, academics and patients have been lulled into a false sense of security.

“Because NHS England has been involved in all the discussions, we had expected the drug to go to a public consultation and then be commissioned and rolled-out – with guidance – towards the end of the year.

“Pulling the plug on this process at the eleventh hour is leaving people at risk who would otherwise have been protected.

“And the bottom line is that 8 or 9 gay men are infected with HIV in the UK every day. We see people every day in clinic who we know could benefit from this.

“We know it works.”

Dr Mags Portman, who worked on the UK Prep trial and is part of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV said the situation was extremely worrying.

She added: “Local authorities have already had huge cuts to their public health budgets and some could struggle.

“How will they decide who gets Prep if they can’t give it to everyone who needs it?”

Prep has so-far been available to people enrolled in a research trial taking place in six cities in the UK, and can also be bought privately.

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