Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs like Truvada before having unprotected sex with HIV+ people can significantly reduce the risk of infection (the drugs can also be taken after potential exposure); though this use is approved in England, the NHS does not yet cover Truveda prescriptions, so people who wish to take the drug are expected to pay £400/month.
But people are unwilling to choose between life-threatening infections, sexual pleasure and pharmaceutical patents, which is why activists in the UK have set up websites like I Want PREP Now, where a month's supply of generic PREP drugs from India and Swaziland (who are able to manufacture on-patent drugs under compulsory licenses thanks to the Access to Medicine treaty and domestic law) costs £40.
This has coincided with an unprecedented drop in new HIV infections in London health surveillance — a drop of 40% in one year — an eye-popping figure that has prompted many medical professionals to switch from advising against taking drugs from online pharmacies to providing easy assay tools to evaluate the quality of these drugs.
Sheena McCormack of the London clinic 56 Dean Street says the fall in infection rates is unlikely to be due to more condom use, as rates of other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis were about the same in 2016 as the year before.
Matthew Hodson of the HIV information charity NAM says that while the drop could in theory be down to the preventative impact of wider testing and treatment, that is unlikely because of the timing and steep decline in incidence.
The best argument for using PrEP is that it works so well at reducing new infections, says Jason Domino, who has been using the medicine for two years, after a scare when a partner turned out to be HIV-positive. "You're tackling an infection that's hugely expensive to address," he says. "It saves the NHS money."
Massive drop in London HIV rates may be due to internet drugs
[Clare Wilson/New Scientist]
(Image: Truvada, Jeffrey Beall, CC-BY-SA)