After many years of campaigning, it was announced this week that PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) will be available in England on the NHS with enrolment for the trial starting at key clinics.
For those that aren’t aware, PrEP is one of the most important advances in HIV prevention we’ve had. The excellent iWantPrEPNow website describes it as:
PrEP is a tablet you take reguarly, which protects you from HIV. If you take PrEP once a day, you can maximise your protection against HIV by around 99%.
The science behind PrEP is compelling; it’s a combination of two separate drugs (Tenofovir and Emtricitabine) that has been successfully used in people that have already been diagnosed with HIV for a number of years.
In London, HIV prevention campaigns and the growing usage of PrEP within the gay community has resulted in a dramatic drop in new infections, which is mirrored in cities all over the world. One of the leading GU medicine clinics in the UK, 56 Dean Street, has recorded an 80% decrease in new HIV infections in men who have sex with men (MSM) over the past two years, against a broadly static number of tests. The goal is now to get to a month where there isn’t a single new diagnosis, ‘getting to zero’.
Given this is a gay travel blog, why am I talking about PrEP, apart from the general goodness of it?
Until this week, the only way to source PrEP in England was via the internet and getting it shipped from abroad. In the United Kingdom, this is perfectly legal to do for personal use. However in some jurisdictions (like the US), it’s not lawful to posses prescription-only medication unless you have a prescription for it.
For those travellers taking their medication to the US, this is a potential issue, which I wrote about several months ago. Indeed a Canadian traveller got stopped by customs and their Global Entry clearance revoked (and subsequently reinstated) for having prescription medication on him, without a prescription.
Now that PrEP will be available to those of us in England via the NHS, this problem goes away. However it’s still just a trial, initially for 10,000 people.
In London, both 56 Dean Street and Hammersmith are now recruiting participants. St. Mary’s in Paddington will start next week. The full list of clinics taking part is listed on the trial website and most should come online in the next few weeks.
For those of you in countries like the US and France where it’s fairly widely available on health insurance, this is old news. However for people in England, this is very welcome and both Public Health England and NHS England should be applauded.