An employee of HIV charity Terrance Higgins Trust has sent a series of spam and trolling comments to an online pharmacy website, a Gay Star News investigation can reveal.
PrEP Direct is just one of the websites where the estimated 8,000 men in England who buy their own PrEP can get the drug.
They have recently faced a series of spamming comments from a THT linked IP address accusing them of being a ‘con’ and a ‘scam’ – which PrEP Direct deny.
The comments came from someone with the name ‘Jessica the fake ass troll.’
Following the GSN investigation, THT are now internally exploring what happened.
A spokesperson from Terrence Higgins Trust tells GSN:
‘We’re currently reviewing a number of comments made on a website, which appear to have been made by a member of our staff using a PC in one of our offices. This sort of behavior is unacceptable and in breach of our policies.’
Now, the HIV charity is distancing themselves from the comments:
‘The views made reflect those of an individual, not Terrence Higgins Trust. Appropriate action will be taking place internally when we have further information.’
PrEP Direct sells PrEP to customers, which in the UK is only legal to do if you are buying from outside of the EU. You can only legally buy up to a three month supply for personal use.
However, the comments posted under the guise of ‘Jessica’ accuse PrEP Direct of lying to customers and being a ‘scam’
But speaking to Gay Star News Sam Patel who runs the site denies these allegations:
‘We’d like an apology from THT, reputation is everything. We pride ourselves on being a genuine seller. I hope they find out and reprimand the person who did this.’
Patel brought the comments to Gay Star News after a difficult phone call with THT.
iwantPrEPnow recently merged with THT
The Terrance Higgins Trust took the UK PrEP organization ‘iwantPrEPnow’ under its umbrella in November this year.
Writing at the time of the announcement, PrEP activist Greg Owen who started iwantPrEPnow said:
‘Now that the PrEP Impact Trial in England has started, in addition to access in Scotland and Wales, the campaign to enable access to PrEP for all who need it has to change and develop. As a result, iwantPrEPnow will now come under the umbrella of Terrence Higgins Trust.’
Owen’s website is used internationally as a portal for PrEP buying advice. Now he works at THT as the iwantPrEPnow project lead.
The site lists a number of online pharmacies that they check to be ‘reliable’ and are list as sellers you can ‘trust’.
PrEP Direct is not one of these listed sellers.
When Patel contacted THT to find out about how they could start a relationship to be one – he struggled. He was put through to Greg Owen:
‘He told me I would get a cease and desist letter for naming iwantPrEPnow on our website. We used to point people to the site as a place for advice about PrEP.’
THT confirms they did ask for the removal of some information, telling GSN:
‘We have previously been in contact with PrEP Direct to ask for the removal of inaccurate information regarding Terrence Higgins Trust and iwantPrEPnow. This information was later removed, and is the only formal contact we’ve ever had with the site.’
PrEP Direct has since taken down the information on their site about iwantPrEPnow and Greg Owen.
Why do PrEP stores want recognition from advocacy groups?
Sexual health advocates around the world signpost many people to iwantPrEPnow as a good place to find information about buying your own PrEP.
But, online PrEP stores can gain from having a relationship with the iwantPrEPnow website because they have a list of verified, trusted and preferred sellers.
Currently, they only list five sellers which they have tested and have a ‘first-hand account that the sales process was smooth, easy and reliable.’
A recent iwantPrEPnow statement explains that many PrEP suppliers request to be on the list:
‘Several of these companies have been quite assertive with their requests and offered financial incentives/commission or rent to appear on the page. Co-founder Greg Owen made the decision very early on that iwantPrEPnow should not and would not ever become a commercial or for-profit project. The reasons for this are quite clear and transparent. Retaining autonomy over content and control of a non-biased information sharing service.’
Later in the statement adding:
‘We acknowledge there are numerous other online PrEP sellers but it would be impossible and impractical to verify and list every one. Not being on our Buy Now page does not mean these sellers are not reputable or not selling a genuine drug. It simply means we cannot offer reassurance or verification.
Who can access PrEP around the world?
Currently, an estimated 8,000 people in England are buying their own PrEP online.
Now the National Health Service is providing it for 10,000 people to trial how it can contribute to HIV care long-term. Scotland was the first country to make it available on the NHS.
In the US, PrEP is often available – but not always easily. The drug company Gilead, who makes the main PrEP drug, provides free clinics. But equally some doctors charge large fees for consultations.
And in India, the country that makes generic – cheaper – PrEP drugs for the rest of the world regular people can’t always get it. PrEP does not get funding from the Indian government. And at around 3000Rs ($30 €25) a month, wealthier Indians can afford to buy it privately. However, poorer people and students are cannot afford this.
Moreover, there is no publicly-funded PrEP at all across post-Soviet Union countries.
But there is a brilliant example from Kenya and South Africa. PrEP is rolling out there for free, particularly targeting men who have sex with men, drug users, and sex workers.
Sustained publicity campaigns are have been touting PrEP as a good option.