According to a 2015 report, there were more than 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK in 2014. In the same year, over 6,000 were newly diagnosed with HIV and more than 600 died of AIDS-related illnesses. What’s more terrifying is that over a quarter of people are unaware that they carry the virus and risk infecting others.
With no vaccine or cure for HIV, it’s more than evident that there’s a growing need for new strategies to prevent transmission. But, here’s the good news: after decades of research and experimental therapies aimed at treating people after they have been infected, an effective preventative measure has finally been discovered. It’s called Truvada, and it has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. England’s National Health Service (NHS), however, chose not to fund the treatment.
To celebrate Sexual Health Month, we’ve decided to take a closer look at this sensitive topic and analyze England’s position and how it can affect hundreds of thousands of people.
What Is Truvada?
Truvada is nothing new in the medical world. If you are a nurse working with HIV patients, you’ve probably used this drug before in combination with other medications. But, as it turned out, Truvada can also be used as a prophylaxis (PrEP.) In other words, the drug acts as an antiviral that your take to prep the body against the virus and minimize the risk of infection.
If taken every day, Truvada was proven to have a remarkable record in preventing HIV infections. According to a study conducted at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, 100% of participants remained HIV-free while taking the drug.
The PrEP prevention method can be taken on a daily basis by sexually active men. Just like women take their birth control pills every day to avoid unwanted pregnancies, men can take Truvada to reduce the risk of HIV infection.
Don’t get the wrong idea. This treatment alone doesn’t offer a free ticket ride to no-HIV town. But, when used in combination with safe sex practices, it can significantly reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Why Is the Uptake So Slow?
There’s no doubt about the fact that Truvada is an efficient preventive measure and it can be used to fight the spread of HIV among sexually active men and women. Many health centers and organizations across the U.S. have embraced the pill and ensured easy access. California’s Medicaid program, for instance, lifted the condition that doctors complete an authorization request to get the pill.
However, a lot of doctors are still reluctant to prescribe the pill. The logic goes: if you are not infected with HIV, then you don’t need antiretroviral medication. Other doctors, on the other hand, have no idea what the pill is and refuse to prescribe it to those who are requesting it.
There’s also a stigma associated with people who take Truvada – in the gay community, some people see it as promiscuity and are fearful that the treatment encourages risky sexual behavior.
Why Is NHS Refusing to Fund PrEp?
In spite of all concerns and side effects, Truvada was proven to be an efficient strategy to keep HIV transmission under control. The FDA recognized its potential and approved it in 2012. The World Health Organization has also advertised the drug and it has since become available in different countries, such as Canada, Israel, and France. In England, however, things are a bit different.
Despite the mounting body of evidence that proves Truvada’s efficacity, England’s National Health System (NHS) has claimed that it has no legal responsibility to fund the drug. They’ve promised to fund the treatment for around 500 people for the next two years but handed the responsibility over to local authorities. To the NHS, PrEP is just a short-term fix.
Truvada isn’t cheap. It can cost over $6,000 a year to get treated. Without funding from the government, Truvada isn’t a feasible option for high-risk demographics. And, that’s bad news for everyone, considering that HIV is a growing problem in the UK. Seventeen people are being diagnosed with HIV every day in the UK. One in five gay and bisexual men and women remain undiagnosed and can infect other people without even knowing it.