ACTUP London organised a diverse group of gay men, women, and trans* people to demonstrate outside a Department of Health office this morning, waving large blue balloons made to look like Truvada pills, the highly effective new HIV prevention tool that has been shown to dramatically reduce infections yet remains unavailable on the NHS.
Inside the building, an NHS England committee debated the benefits of using Truvada as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) – a tablet to be taken regularly by HIV-negative people to stop them contracting the virus. Currently the subject of a UK study called PROUD, Truvada has been available for use as PrEP in the US since 2012. Despite extremely promising early data from the study, the NHS does not expect to roll out PrEP nationally until 2017 at the earliest.
ACT UP activist Seán McGovern said the two-year wait was unacceptable:
“We already know that PrEP is highly effective in stopping infection when taken correctly – and yet in the UK only the 545 study participants are currently able to take it. There were 6,000 new HIV diagnoses in 2013 alone. Each year that we wait means consigning a huge number of people to infections that could be prevented.”
While the PROUD study has only enrolled men who have sex with men, activists pointed out that wider PrEP access would benefit other groups.
As activist Christine Adams put it:
“Because it is taken well before having sex, PrEP offers women greater autonomy in staying negative, particularly in situations where they cannot negotiate condom use. 48% of PrEP prescriptions in the US last year were for women, but women in the UK do not have that option. The benefits may be even more dramatic for the trans* community, who are 49 times more likely than the general population to contract HIV.”
The World Health Organization has recommended PrEP as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy and New York Governor Mario Cuomo has pledged to provide it to those most at-risk as part of a plan to ‘end the AIDS epidemic’ in his state. Following on our statement “PrEP Works. We Need It Now”, ACTUP urges the NHS to follow those examples and offer PrEP immediately.
Activist Fernando Mariano, who is also a PROUD study participant, said:
“Since starting on PrEP, I’ve actually become much more aware of my sexual decision-making and have had a huge increase in my peace of mind. It’s an extra level of protection. The NHS needs to listen to the communities most affected by this epidemic and provide us with the most effective tools available so that we can stay negative.”
ACTUP is just one of many groups who have advocated speeding up PrEP access. An online community statement launched just last week already has nearly 1,000 signatures from individuals and HIV prevention organisations.
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SIGN THE COMMUNITY STATEMENT HERE to demand PrEP Access on the NHS as soon as possible!