The gay community has a strong history of effective HIV activism, a tradition Greg Owen is continuing. His campaigning work around PrEP saw him set up iwantPrEPnow.co.uk, a place to raise awareness of — and access to — HIV-prevention medication. Such was its success, he was credited with playing a huge role in reducing the number of gay men in London being diagnosed with HIV by 40 per cent in a 12-month period.
Greg recently sat down with Blued to discuss his own PrEP journey, and the health issues facing the LGBT+ community.
On his own history with PrEP:
I had been thinking about starting PrEP in 2013/2014 as I had just come out of a 7 year relationship and I was aware that my sexual behaviour was putting me at an elevated risk of contracting HIV. But I wasn’t sure about it and it wasn’t available here in the UK even though it was approved for use in the United States since June 2012.
In August 2015, after being on PEP twice (PEP is Post Exposure Prophylaxis – a month of treatment you can take after sex to help prevent HIV infection if you’ve been exposed) I finally decided to start taking PrEP. I just had to figure out how to get hold of it. There were only 2 options back then: go to a sexual health clinic and claim a false exposure to HIV and obtain PEP. One of the drugs used in PEP is Truvada. Truvada (or its generic equivalent) is what we use for PrEP. But I thought that was wasteful and a little unethical at the time. The only other option was to get the drugs from an HIV positive person using Truvada as treatment. As it happened, one of my friends had just changed his HIV medication and had 2 pots of Truvada left over that he offered to me for use as PrEP. So I went to Dean Street Express for an HIV test (I had tested HIV negative the summer before). My test result came back positive and so I was too late to start PrEP. Ironic right!? I finally decide to start PrEP. I finally manage to get hold of PrEP and I’m just a few months too late.
So the very next day I announced my HIV status on stage to 150 people at an event I attend every month called Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs. After the event I posted it on social media and mentioned that I couldn’t start PrEP. It kind of went a bit viral and as a result people started asking me “What is this PrEP stuff? And why would it have kept you HIV negative”. Instantly I could see that there was interest and demand but no access. I saw a problem and I saw the solution. Earlier that year I had heard at a meeting somewhere that you could import 3 months worth of certain pharmaceutical drugs for personal use. PrEP was one of those drugs. So myself and iwantPrEPnow co-founder Alex Craddock set about doing some research. Six or seven weeks later we launched iwantPrEPnow.co.uk. Like I said, it was a total accident. All very unexpected and at times overwhelming.
On who should be taking PrEP:
Anyone who is at risk of contracting HIV might want to consider using PrEP but that’s very broad as anyone can contract HIV so we tend to look at ‘risk level’ and ‘at-risk groups’ but I hate that. I hate immediately linking sex to risk. This is problematic and I think as gay men that’s all we’ve heard about in regards to our sex and our relationships and our love over the past 35 years in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic: risk, infection and death. We have a chance to change that now.
If you are accessing PrEP through a healthcare system or trial the clinical eligibility criteria will be tailored to identify those most at-risk and who would qualify for PrEP. To be fair, the eligibility criteria for the upcoming PrEP IMPACT trial is quite open. What we’ve facilitated though with iwantPrEPnow and self-sourcing is we have given the control and the choice to the person directly, providing they can afford to and are able to self-source, which we know not everyone can.
Read more of Greg’s interview on Blued
The iwantPrEPnow video project will be available to view on Blued in EXCLUSIVITY for a week, commencing 19/07/17! Tune in to Blued and follow @GrEG_Owen on Blued to be notified of the launch!