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We’re not PrEPared to stand by and watch LGBT+ health inequality grow

Tuesday 23-08-2016 - 16:26

Despite what they might say, denying PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) to LGBT+ people is an irresponsible move from NHS England.

PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) has been proven to reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV by up to 99 percent. If France, Canada, Israel and the United States can offer it to those who are at risk, why are NHS England having so much trouble following suit? Time and time again they have declined to make it available, even after a pilot scheme showed how successful it was among MSM (men who have sex with men) and more recently in court, when they were told it was their responsibility to fund the treatment.

NHS England have not only decided to appeal the Court’s decision but the language they used was deeply troubling. The statement released began “PrEP is a measure to prevent HIV transmission, particularly for men who have high risk condomless sex with multiple male partners”. Portraying PrEP solely for MSM is simply untrue and the language used suggests that MSM are making poor lifestyle choices that NHS England shouldn’t have to spend on. Of course PrEP would be used by MSM but demonizing those with HIV or at risk of it is not helpful and harks back to the 80s when HIV was commonly referred to as the “gay plague”.

NHS England also said that by providing PrEP they would have to cut back on other treatments, using the example of cystic fibrosis treatment for children between two and five. This is blatantly tactical pitting one patient against another to gain sympathy from the public for their reasoning.

Failing to tackle the spread of HIV will ultimately cost more in the long run (treating people with HIV is more costly than giving the drug to those most at risk) and cause harm to those who are diagnosed with HIV every day. Currently this figure stands at seventeen per day. According to the Terrence Higgins Trust there are more people living with HIV in the UK than ever before. Not only is PrEP a lifesaving drug but it has much further reaching effects such as the benefits to mental health and the entire health and social care system. For this reason we must put pressure on the government and the NHS to start rolling this drug out immediately.

Since the court ruling hit the headlines we’ve heard endless commenters saying STI’s will become rife due to unprotected sex. We’ve got the contraceptive pill and the last time I checked Durex was still going strong. Safer sex messages are of course important and being protected against STIs should be a priority. But people don’t just forget this once a pill or vaccination is developed.

You’re not powerless in the face of these decisions though. So what can you do? NHS England have published a consultation and taking part could make all the difference. We need to put pressure on NHS England and demonstrate that there is public support for PrEP to be provided by the NHS. You’ve only got until 23 September so I’ve made things a little easier for you and provided template responses created by Terrence Higgins Trust for organsations and individuals.

You can read the full NHS England consulation here.

In solidarity,

Melantha

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