A drug which greatly reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus is going to be available to NHS patients in England. It is believed that wider access to the drug, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), will have a dramatic effect in reducing HIV risk across the country.

How PrEP Works

PrEP is a highly effective pill which works by disabling the HIV virus before it has time to infect the body. Taking medication for HIV in this form is the most effective way to combat the disease as it tackles the spread pre-emptively, before symptoms start appearing.

The drug can be taken either one of two ways; one tablet daily on a regular basis or taken only when needed (two tablets 24 hours before sex, one 24 hours after sex and another tablet 48 hours later).

PrEP is most effective and works best when it is taken as soon as possible after sex, the longer you wait the higher the chances will be that the medication will be unsuccessful. It is essential to get to either a clinic or hospital no more than 24 hours after having unprotected sex to take PrEP and reduce the risk of contracting HIV.

Clinical Trial

As PrEP is introduced to the NHS, it will first undergo a three-year clinical trial, with at least 10,000 people taking part. This trial will determine how well PrEP reduces HIV risk by monitoring the success rate, how popular it will be and how long an average course of the drug will take.

Dr Ian Williams is the chairman of the Iris Group, the NHS research centre for sexual health and HIV. He has said that the announcement of PrEP being available on the NHS shows the country’s commitment to combating HIV and believes that the clinical trial is the best way to prepare for rolling out PrEP on a large scale.

The Battle to Get PrEP on the NHS

The announcement comes after the NHS lost a court battle in which they argued that paying for PrEP should be the responsibility of local authorities rather than the NHS.

The medicine costs £400 per person, per month and the NHS has accepted the decision, saying there is strong evidence that PrEP will be effective in reducing the HIV risk. However, there are still unanswered questions about the use of the drug which are expected to be answered by the clinical trial.

HIV in the UK

According to a 2014 study, there is an estimated 103,700 people living with HIV in the UK. Most of these people contracted the virus through sexual intercourse, 43,000 of those were gay or bisexual men and 54,000 were heterosexual.

These statistics mean that around one in every 620 people in the UK is living with HIV. The two groups most at risk of contracting the condition are gay and bisexual men and heterosexual Black Africans.

Organisations across the UK are attempting to take the stigma away from HIV diagnosis. December 1st marks World AIDS Day, which takes place internationally every year. On this day, hundreds of organisations and individuals come together to host events and raise funds for the fight against HIV/AIDS and to spread awareness.

Get Tested

There is only one way to find out if you have HIV and that is to get tested. This involves taking a small sample of blood or saliva and testing for signs of the infection.

Early detection and diagnosis is the only way to ensure that treatment for HIV will be successful; this is why it is so important to get tested. There are plenty of places that HIV tests are available free of charge, including your GP surgery, sexual health clinics and the Terrence Higgins Trust, a sexual health charity in High Wycombe.

For more information, visit the NHS website.