NHS England will provide a new HIV preventive drug to its high-risk patients.
A drug is proven to be 86 per cent effective in cutting the risk of being HIV infected, according to a recent study published in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
At least 10,000 people at high risk will be given the PrEP drug for a period of three years.
The decision comes less than a month after a High Court ruling that NHS could provide the drug.
The health service fought in court that funding something preventative rather than treatment should fall to local authorities and not the NHS. However, the National Aids Trust charity challenged its proposal and won the case.
The drug has the “potential to have a transformative impact for thousands of people,” according to the Trust.
Another charity Doctors of the World UK welcomed the announcement on Twitter saying it’s a “Big victory of HIV campaigners.”
The three-year clinical trial will cost the NHS £10 million and could mean the beginning of making an effective drug available to the wider public.
PrEP, or Pre Exposure Prophylaxis, treatment has been described as a “game-changer” in HIV prevention.
Research has not been able to find a cure for the infection, but only manage its symptoms through a lifelong treatment, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust. It suggests “that everyone diagnosed with HIV starts treatment straight away.”
According to Center for Disease Control, the estimated lifetime cost of HIV treatment is £360,000. It’s provided to patients for free by the NHS.
Gilead, the US-based biopharmaceutical company, priced the once-a-day pill, called Truvada, at £11.85, according to the Financial Times.
However, in order to be effective, the pill must be taken simultaneously with other anti-HIV medicines “because Truvada alone is not a complete treatment,” according to the drug’s website.
NHS England said there are still questions around how it can be distributed on a wider scale.
“This announcement demonstrates NHS England’s commitment to fund Prep and provides the chance to best prepare England for optimal roll-out following this large-scale clinical trial,” Dr Ian Williams, chairman of NHS England’s group on HIV, said noting that “for now, the trial will provide access to Prep for thousands of people most at risk of acquiring HIV.”
According to the National Aids Trust, two-thirds of patients living with HIV in the UK are men and more than half of them are men who have sex with men — including all gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Its data also shows that there has been a 73 per cent increase of people accessing HIV care in the last decade.
This treatment may mean that the number of HIV cases will decrease in the future. According to the National Aids Trust, around 6,000 people are diagnosed with HIV in the UK every year.
Ian Green of the Terence Higgins Trust told the Financial Times that the trial alone “does not provide the long-term stability that is needed” and wanted the NHS England to make a commitment to fully funding PrEP for everyone at risk.
“Only then can we look forward to a future without HIV transmissions, which would be a stunning achievement in terms of public health,” he said.