Stephen Fry

Celebrities and activists have condemned this week’s announcement from NHS England that it will not fund PrEP, a pill that is almost 100% effective in preventing HIV.

© Jean_Nelson Depositphotos

Stephen Fry led the movement of celebrities rallying for PrEP to be made available to those at risk of HIV.

Stephen, a patron of Terrence Higgins Trust, said:

“I have been a supporter of HIV charities for 35 years and seen remarkable medical and social breakthroughs in treating infection and stigma. But I never imagined I would be alive to see the day when a pill was created that could actually prevent HIV.

“It is remarkable and thrilling to witness so tremendous an achievement, but deeply frustrating in equal measure to discover that our national health service has pointedly refused to provide it to people at significant risk of infection from HIV.

“Surely this must be challenged: if not in the name of humanity then in the name of economy and plain common sense.”

His sentiments were echoed by Dr Christian Jessen, an ambassador for National HIV Testing Week, who said,

 “I was shocked and saddened to see NHS England’s refusal to fund PrEP, following months of campaigning by HIV organisations and activists.

“As a doctor, this makes no sense to me. There should be no ‘controversy’ – this is a drug that works, it will halt HIV, and it is cost-effective. Condom use has prevented tens of thousands of HIV infections and remains a cornerstone of HIV prevention, but it’s not enough on its own. PrEP could have been the last piece of the puzzle.”

Christian Jessen (C) Monty McKinnen
Christian Jessen (C) Monty McKinnen

The UK now has the worst HIV epidemic of any large country in western Europe, having overtaken Spain, France and Portugal. Every day, seven men who have sex with men get HIV.

The HIV sector has been united in its outrage following NHS England’s announcement on Tuesday. In an unprecedented move, the UK’s HIV charities and organisations have now joined forces and announced they will march together at London Pride on 25th June for the first time in Pride history, under the banner of #United4PrEP.

In a letter to The Times, the coalition of over 20 HIV organisations called the decision “a dark day for the NHS.”

The letter was signed by National AIDS Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust, Gay Men Fighting AIDS, British HIV Association and many more.
They said,

“Our Government seems to have no idea who is responsible for funding the drug that could help end the HIV epidemic, with departments passing the buck and no-one taking charge. The broader implications of that chaos should worry everyone.”

Rather than making PrEP available to high-risk groups, the NHS has agreed to provide PrEP to just 500 gay and bisexual men.

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“The tokenistic offer to provide PrEP to 500 gay men over two years is arbitrary and inadequate,” continued the letter in the Times.

“It won’t scratch the surface when 2,500 gay men get HIV each year, let alone other groups such as trans women and black Africans.”

Other celebrities joining the outcry have included Coronation Street actor Charlie Condou, who said:

“Anything that can stop people getting HIV can only be a good thing, and that’s why I was so disappointed that the NHS has refused to fund PrEP. Despite what lots of people think, HIV hasn’t gone away. It’s an incurable health condition affecting thousands of people – and I believe that if there’s a way of stopping it in its tracks, our health service should be grabbing that opportunity, not letting it go to waste.

“I understand it costs money to provide PrEP, but in the long term, it will be cheaper for the NHS to prevent at-risk people from getting HIV than to fund a lifetime of treatment for them.”

Sir Elton John has previously voiced his support for PrEP. Writing in the New York Times in 2014, he said,

“Many view the drug Truvada — often used in pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — as a miracle drug that will end AIDS. I share in this excitement, and have great hope for PrEP — and praise for leaders who advocate its wider use.”

The Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly spoken out about the benefits of PrEP, saying,

“There’s no doubt there is a rising rate of [HIV] infection. These treatments can help and make a difference.”

 

Now HIV activists and organisations are calling on him to show leadership and see this game-changing drug provided to those most at risk.

This article was written by Terrence Higgins Trust but was edited to meet THEGAYUK’s style guide.