Charities hail new preventative HIV drug’s public debut in Scotland

Nathanael Williams

Preventative drug will be first rolled out in Scotland 

SCOTLAND is to become the first nation in the UK to offer, through the NHS, a life saving and extending drug that can lower the risk of HIV infection.

Known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (Prep), it will be used in the NHS to prevent the spread of the virus among high-risk groups as well as people who have an HIV-positive partner.

The breakthrough yesterday (Monday 10 April) followed campaigning by groups such as HIV Scotland, Waverley Care, the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland and the National AIDS Trust who have lobbied hard for the drug to be in use on the NHS.

The blue pill, taken once a day, has been found to reduce the risk of HIV infection by 86 per cent and up to 1,900 people in Scotland will be eligible.

Read more: Here’s why Scottish HIV charities are calling for HIV preventative drug ‘Prep’

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) made the decision saying that the drug Prep should form part of a wider HIV-prevention strategy.

Robert McKay, national director for the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, said: “Prep can now be used as a vital tool alongside condom use, regular testing and early treatment to help bring an end to HIV transmission in Scotland.

“Not only will this make a life-changing difference to individuals by protecting them from a lifelong and stigmatised condition but for every person who would have become HIV positive without Prep, NHS Scotland will save £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs.”

If all the 1,900 thought eligible for prescription obtained access to the drug in Scotland it would cost around £10m a year, according to the SMC. The latest figures from Health Protection Scotland show that 285 new cases of HIV were reported last year.

“Prep can now be used as a vital tool alongside condom use, regular testing and early treatment to help bring an end to HIV transmission in Scotland.” Robert McKay

Advocates of the drug argue that most current prevention methods had not reduced the spread of HIV in Scotland over the past decade and also claimed that Prep, which can be sold under the brand name Truvada, will save the NHS money if it prevents new cases.

Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour, said: “This is a very welcome announcement, and allows Scotland to lead the way in this groundbreaking prevention method. It is a historic decision that could lead to a transformational reduction in the number of new HIV transmissions. I applaud all the campaigners who have fought so hard for this for years.

“It is now vital that the SNP government ensures all NHS boards have the funds required so that Prep can be made available to those who need it. As part of my work with the cross-party group on sexual health and blood borne viruses I have heard first-hand the difference this could make, and I have today visited the Waverley Care residential care and support service to speak to people who live with HIV.”

Picture courtesy of Scottish Government

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