According to the most recent statistics, 17 people a day in the UK find out they are HIV positive. PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) can help greatly help reduce that number.
Seventeen a day translates as 6,000 people a year. That’s 6,000 who may have avoided becoming positive if they’d had access to PrEP medication. Offering PrEP to those who are most at risk, even on a short term basis, could have a big impact on that figure.
Currently in the UK, those who have been exposed to HIV can get PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) on the NHS for 28 days. However, those who may need continuous cover have to fund it themselves.
That is not always a realistic option as the branded version of the required medication costs approximately £400 per month. The cheaper generic versions are still about £50 a month and individuals can only buy three months’ supply at a time. Bulk buying, which the NHS is often able to negotiate, is not possible.
This creates a divide where those with the capacity to source their own treatment can protect themselves and the more vulnerable are unable to do so.
‘PrEP is helping me negotiate a period in my life where I could be exposed to HIV’
I have been on PrEP for 12 months, with a six-week break when I knew I didn’t need it. I am fortunate to be able to fund my own supply.
I should not have an advantage over someone else who probably needs PrEP more than me, just because I can afford the generics.
Buying medication online also comes with risks, such as the quality of the product, delivery reliability and price instability.
At first, I was unsure of purchasing PrEP myself mainly due to quality concerns but I reconsidered after extensive research – especially into the drug level monitoring available at some London clinics .
My research was necessary because although the information is getting out there some GPs, clinics and charities lack knowledge or feel unable to advise those seeking PrEP because it is not available on the NHS.
PrEP is helping me negotiate a period in my life where I could be exposed to HIV. Taking it means my stress levels regarding sex have reduced – especially when the condoms fail.
Another benefit of taking PrEP is that it’s recommended you are monitored to ensure the drugs are working without any unwanted side-effects. At the same time, any other STIs I may have come into contact with can be treated.
I am being responsible for my health and, by reducing my ability to become infected, I also help protect my partners.
Worldwide, transgender people are one of the groups most affected by the HIV epidemic. However, here in the UK, trans men have not been included in any of the PrEP studies so having access to any type of monitoring is reassuring.
‘Prescribing PrEP could greatly reduce NHS expenditure in the long-run’
Despite acknowledging the efficiency of PrEP in preventing HIV transmission, NHS England recently announced that it did not believe it was its duty to fund the treatment. The decision has been successfully challenged in court by the National AIDS Trust, but NHS England are continuing to fight the ruling.
Many sections of the mainstream press have whipped up hysteria around the notion that patients with conditions with such as cancer will be denied treatment if the NHS is forced to pay for PrEP. It’s not about forcing the NHS but clarifying funding and asking for balanced consideration without the inflammatory rhetoric.
Prescribing PrEP could greatly reduce NHS expenditure in the long-run, given the costs of treating someone for life once they become infected with HIV.
For these reasons, I think it is important to stand up and make a noise about PrEP regardless of whether the medication is something that you would personally use.
Various organizations are working together to loudly campaign for access to PrEP for everyone at risk – regardless of their sexuality, gender, race, etc, but it needs everyone to have their say.
There is currently a public consultation taking place, but you’ve only got until Friday (23 September) to complete the survey and make your voice heard.
One of those 17 people a day could be someone close to you, a member of your family, a friend, or work mate. It might even be you: life has a habit of throwing curveballs and circumstances change.
It’s within the NHS’s power to change that end result and make PrEP available to all those at risk.
56 Dean Street can offer advice on sexual health and PrEP/PEP. It also has a trans specific sexual health clinic, CliniQ. More info on PrEP can be found at iwantprepnow.co.uk, prepster.info and i-base.info