Stephen Fry and Channel 4’s Dr Christian Jessen are leading the charge against NHS England after it made the decision not to commission HIV-preventing PrEP medication last week (May 31).
In a press release, Stephen Fry, who is a patron of the HIV charity 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.”
He added: “Surely this must be challenged: if not in the name of humanity then in the name of economy and plain common sense.”
Embarrassing bodies presenter Dr Christian Jessen, who also serves as an ambassador for National HIV Testing Week, also criticised the decision not make the ground-breaking medication available on the NHS as HIV rates continue to rise among men who have sex with men (MSM).
“I was shocked and saddened to see NHS England’s refusal to fund PrEP, following months of campaigning by HIV organisations and activists,” the Attitude health columnist said.
“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.”
The UK has now overtaken Portugal, France and Spain as the country in Western Europe that has the worst HIV epidemic, with seven new MSMs diagnosed with HIV every single day.
Meanwhile, over 20 HIV organisations called the recent decision on PrEP “a dark day for the NHS” in an open letter to The Times.
The letter was signed by National AIDS Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust, Gay Men Fighting AIDS, British HIV Association and 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.”
— TerrenceHigginsTrust (@THTorguk) June 6, 2016
Other celebrities have voiced their support for the drug including Elton John who 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.”
It has also been announced that many UK HIV organisations will march together at London Pride later this month (June 25-26) under the banner of #United4PrEP.
For more information and to get involved, visit the Terrence Higgins Trust website.