NHS England announced on Friday (11 January) its support for a request from researchers leading the PrEP IMPACT Trial. The request asks for the trial to double its places. This would give 26,000 people access to the life-saving pill, compared to the former 13,000 people.
The Programme Oversight Board will make the final decision regarding this request next Tuesday (15 January). It is a critical step forward, despite the lack of a final decision.
Over 40 clinics are participating in the trial. Prior to this doubling, they were having to turn away gay and bisexual men.
‘The original 10,000 places were never going to be enough and since it started the trial has already had to be expanded from 10,000 to 13,000 places,’ explained Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust.
She also stressed the importance of the decision to double: ‘Without an expansion, it’s likely all the places for gay and bisexual men will be taken imminently. That coupled with reports of people becoming infected with HIV after being unable to access PrEP via the trial is why we and other HIV campaigners have been shouting about this so loudly.’
People without HIV take PrEP, a single pill, daily. Its continuous intake can help drastically lower the chance of infection.
‘While today’s statement from NHS England is definitely a step in the right direction, the long fight for PrEP to be available on the NHS in England isn’t over yet,’ she added.
PrEP needs to be more accessible
Matthew Hodson, the Executive Director at NAM, also responded to NHS England’s support.
‘Reports suggest that some men who were turned away have subsequently acquired HIV, meaning that they now face a lifetime of HIV treatment,’ he said, reiterating Laycock’s comments.
‘For this reason, I welcome the proposal to double the number of places available on the trial.’
NAM is an organization and charity providing accurate and up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS.
Hodson acknowledged the need for funding to double the trial. He stressed, however, that if England is ‘serious about halting new HIV infections in this country we should ensure that all people at high risk of acquiring HIV should be aware of PrEP, should be offered it and should be able to access it if they so choose’.
Access to healthcare is a critical right for LGBTI people worldwide, and PrEP is an important part of that.