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HIV Aids, Drugs Combination, 2006
HIV Aids, Drugs Combination, 2006via

The HIV-prevention drug PrEP will be made ‘fully available’ in England

Years of campaigning and controversy have led up to the Department of Health decision

PrEP, a drug used to reduce the risk of HIV transmission, will be made “routinely available across England,” according to a statement from the Department of Health published today (March 15). The provision of the drug is due to start later this year, and comes at the end of a long campaign by activists and supporters. 

Evidence shows that PrEP “almost completely eradicates the chances of getting HIV,” says Health Secretary Matt Hancock, reducing the risk of transmission by around 99% when taken daily. “This will benefit tens of thousands of people’s lives, and drive us towards our ambition of zero HIV transmissions in this decade.”

The government aims to end new transmissions, which have already fallen drastically in the last decade, entirely by the year 2030.

However, the road to making the drug accessible to all hasn’t been a smooth one. PrEP has been surrounded by misinformation and stigma in the years campaigners have fought to ensure access.

Today’s announcement is “a real moment to stop and celebrate a hard-fought victory for PrEP access in England,” says Ian Green, Chief Executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust – a charity that campaigns and provides aid to end HIV transmission – in the statement. “Today comes at the end of years of fighting, campaigning and lobbying to ensure proper access to this game-changer for HIV prevention.”

However, Green adds that there is still work to be done to avoid stigma and false preconceptions, an idea echoed by the Trust’s PrEP Policy Lead, Liam Beattie.

“While gay and bisexual men account for the highest proportion of HIV infections, trans women, sex workers and BAME communities also continue to be at increased risk of contracting HIV,” Beattie told Dazed in 2018. “It’s really important that PrEP is promoted to everyone to ensure nobody is left behind.”

An existing PrEP trial has also been criticised in the past for being limited to around 20,000 at-risk people. The new provision will put an end to this cap, and the trial is set to end in October this year.

Another big moment in the search for an HIV cure came with the last year’s news that a second man has been cured of the virus. Though the treatment – a bone marrow transplant – was very unconventional and risky, it could help pave the way for future therapies.