HIV groups have responded with shock at the UK government’s surprise decision to suspend the approval and rollout of PrEP to men who have sex with men (MSM).
NHS (National Health Service) England announced on Monday that despite advanced plans to provide the medication, an additional two year study will instead be undertaken at test sites targeting just 500 men.
It claimed that “longer term data is needed to be certain that PrEP can make a significant contribution to sexual health and well-being.” This despite considerable existing evidence that PrEP is extremely effective at preventing HIV infection.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, said the organisation felt “anger and distress” at NHS England’s “decision to abandon its work to provide PrEP, near the very end of the process.”
She described the NHS’s claim that more ‘testing’ of PrEP is needed as “disingenuous” and called it “simple maladministration with serious consequences.”
Gold said: “Over 5,000 gay men will get HIV over the next two years – very many of whom would not have done so if PrEP had been delivered as proposed.
“We call on Ministers to intervene and reverse this deplorable decision – securing a process to provide PrEP on the basis of evidence and need,” she added.
The Terrence Higgins Trust also expressed its “shock and disbelief” at the news.
CEO Ian Green commented: “By denying full availability of PrEP we are failing those who are at risk of HIV. Today’s decision by NHS England to depart with due process, and, instead, offer a tokenistic nod to what has the potential to revolutionise HIV prevention in the UK, is shameful.”
The use of PrEP has already been approved in the US, Kenya, Israel, Canada, France and South Africa. The South African government announced it will provide PrEP to sex workers earlier this month and remains under pressure to extend this to MSM.
Taken on a daily basis, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) has been shown to be extremely effective in stopping HIV infection. Its use by gay, bisexual and other MSM, especially those at high risk, has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).