The NHS plans to launch a clinical trial of up to 10,000 people to test a drug that could stop HIV transmission.
The exercise is part of the national HIV prevention programme led by Public Health England and will take place over the next three years. NHS England will pay up to £10million to fund the trial phase of the pre-exposure prophylaxis drug, also known as Prep.
Prep is in the form of a pill that those at high risk of contracting HIV take daily to prevent the virus from multiplying in the body. It works by protecting cells and disabling the virus should it be introduced. The pill also contains two medicines that treat HIV if the individual is exposed.
Marc Thompson, co-founder of Prepsters, a website to promote and inform the public about Prep, said: “It brings HIV back into the conversation and we have a new way to possibly prevent transmission and infection amongst people. I think it is really exciting.
“We have seen the impact this drug has had on gay men in London at the Dean Street Clinic and hopefully we will continue to see this.”
The UK’s largest sexual health clinic, 56 Dean Street Clinic in Soho, London announced a 40 per cent drop in HIV diagnoses in 2016. Clinic doctors believe Prep and early treatment is behind it. Dean Street accounts for one-in-nine HIV diagnoses in the UK.
Around 6,000 people are diagnosed with HIV each year and the UK has one of the highest numbers of diagnoses in western Europe.
HIV is most commonly transmitted through unprotected sex and sharing infected needles. It is passed on through bodily fluids, such as semen, blood, vaginal fluids and rectal secretions.
‘While Prep is a form of protection against contracting the virus, it does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy.’
It is not yet available on the NHS, but people can buy it at a private pharmacy. The medication is used in the US, Canada, France and Australia by those at risk of infection.