PrEP: Legal challange to get the NHS to fund HIV prevention drug

HIV is a pretty nasty disease it weakens your immune system leaving you vulnerable to any virus, bacteria or other pathogen that happens to come wandering by. Once HIV/AIDS was a death sentence, it was only a matter of time. Fortunately it is the sort of thing that mankind has made a habit of defeating and since its discovery a lot of ground has been won. Now you can live a full life with HIV and a new drug has emerged that means you can be near immune to catching it. The problem is that the NHS and local authorities in the UK don’t want to fund it.

We really have made progress, if you have HIV your life expectancy is the same as anyone else’s. You will gain more years of life by eating more fruit than you would jumping in a time machine and preventing your infection. That isn’t to say living with HIV is without issue, it means taking a concoction of drugs that can have horrid side effects. Then there is the stigma, HIV can mean losing friends and partners this and the suffer’s own stigma can lead to emotional suffering and depression.

So it would make sense to have a way to stop it being transferred. Well that’s easy we just stop sharing needles and having sex without condoms. Job done, I’ll get the first round. Expect people won’t stop doing these things. Campaign after campaign have told of the risks (and need to keep doing so) but that won’t stop everyone. So we need something else.

As luck would have it we already do. The drug PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) prevents the HIV virus replicating its self so if you take it your risk of contracting HIV goes down by 92-99%. Indeed in a recent trail no one who took he drug as prescribed got HIV. It is even endorsed by the World Health Organisation and it is recommended by America’s CDC that those most at risk take the drug who are: those men who have sex with multiple other men, those with HIV positive partners and those who share needles.

With over 100,000 people in the UK living with HIV and 17 people being diagnosed with it every day you might expect the NHS to be all over it but no they say prevention is a responsibility for others: The Department of Health and local authorities. This is a simplification, while those authorities do bare a burden to fund the prevention of diseases there is nothing to stop the NHS funding PrEP.

This has prompted the National AIDS Trust to launch legal proceedings and are asking for donations to help cover legal costs. There augment seems sound, even pointing to the potential to save money as PrEP costs a lot less than full HIV treatment. So far this has fallen on deaf ears.

The NHS is struggling to find money for, well, anything and local purses aren’t doing any better. It is easy to see how PrEP would be put on the back burner. Stories of suffering visited to men, especially gay men, don’t tug at the heart strings of the British public the way other medical stories might and that’s before we add drug users to that mix.

Ours is the austerity age in the face of cuts this was always going to happen but that doesn’t make it right. PrEP can transform lives and even save money. In another age it would be a no brainer.

Photo by Evan Blaser originally found on Flickr used under creative commons licence.