Tuesday , 5 July 2022

Scotland must extend PrEP not wait for HIV vaccine

PrEPCharities across Scotland and the UK called upon the government for access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an effective means of preventing HIV infection.

While a vaccine for HIV could still be a long way off, existing prevention methods means Scotland and the rest of the UK already has the potential to reduce onward transmission of HIV, providing there is enough will to do so.

Latest figures show around one in four (24 per cent) of people with HIV remain undiagnosed and are unaware of their infection. Besides testing as both means for prevention and treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

The PROUD study published in February, showed PrEP reduced the risk of getting HIV by 86%. The clinical trials looked at the effectiveness of PrEP for gay men who are at high risk of acquiring HIV, showed the reduction in HIV infections as a result of the drug was much greater than the researchers expected when they were planning the trial.

If PrEP is taken before sex it thus reduces the risk of contracting the HIV virus. However the drug is not available on NHS Scotland or throughout the health system in the UK.

Scottish and UK charities called upon both the Scottish and the UK government to make PrEP available on the NHS because it has the potential to prevent new infections among some of those at greatest risk of acquiring HIV.

George Valiotis
George Valiotis

George Valiotis CEO of HIV Scotland told KaleidoScot: “We need to see leadership from Scottish Government on making access to PrEP a reality. The steps needed to make it happen must be clarified, and action taken to speed the process up.

“Scotland has made no real dent in the number of new HIV infections over the past ten years, so we must consider new strategies that could make a difference.

“Recent results from clinical trials of PrEP have made it clear it could have a major impact and prevent new infections among people at greatest risk of acquiring HIV.

“PrEP should be made available on the NHS to all people who are at higher risk of HIV, including sexually active gay men. Promoting the use of condoms is still an important strategy to prevent HIV, but PrEP could give people who already find it difficult to use condoms consistently an additional way to protect their health.

”This is an issue that we at HIV Scotland are going to continue to press, and we want to hear views from community about it to help.”

Speaking with KaleidosScot, Alastair Rose, Head of Operations for Gay Men’s Health, said: “The recent PROUD study provides welcome evidence into the effectiveness of PREP. In respect of this, we look forward to working with our partners to ensure all men who have sex with men can access the best possible HIV prevention methods available.

“We must highlight that PrEP is currently not available in the UK and specifically Scotland, thus it is important to remind men that condoms and lubricant used correctly still provide the best possible protection against HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections.”

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, commented: “Despite great progress made in research and treatment over the past two decades, we still do not have a vaccine for HIV. That day will no doubt come, but in the meantime, greater emphasis on preventive measures such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), compulsory inclusive sex and relationships education (SRE) and extending condom use should be the immediate focus of our efforts.

“By adopting these measures, we have the opportunity to substantially reduce levels of onward transmission of HIV in the UK.”

KaleidoScot asked the Scottish government to clarify its position regarding PrEP, and received this reply from Health Secretary Shona Robison: “I read the recent PROUD study into PrEP treatments with interest.

“I would encourage the manufacturer to apply for a marketing authorisation in Europe and put forward a submission to the Scottish Medicines Consortium so that they can take a decision about whether this drug should be recommended for use for prevention purposes in Scotland.”


About Dan Littauer

Dan Littauer is a journalist who specializes in LGBTI current affairs, travel writing, feature writing and investigative journalism. He is a correspondent for LGBTQ Nation, ManAboutWorld, and previously worked for Gay Star News, PinkNews, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Gay Middle East, Lonely Planet as well as contributing occasionally to the BBC, Al-Jazeera, CNN and The Guardian. He also had an extensive career outside journalism, which included teaching psychoanalysis and social science, and consultancy work for the travel market. When he is not busy writing, he can be spotted rambling around the stunning Scottish landscape, where he lives, spending time at home with his cat.

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