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‘Essential’ HIV treatment not routinely available on the NHS in England

The treatment, described as a “game changer” in the fight against HIV and Aids, is taken before sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV.

A HIV treatment which is not routinely available on the NHS in England has been dubbed an “essential” medicine by global health leaders.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has added pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to its Essential Medicines List.

The treatment, described as a “game changer” in the fight against HIV and Aids, is taken before sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV.

In December last year NHS England announced it would fund a trial of PrEP, with at least 10,000 participants over the next three years.

The announcement followed on from legal proceedings which resulted in the health authority losing a “who pays” legal battle in the Court of Appeal.

Three appeal judges upheld a High Court ruling which said NHS England did have the power to fund the drug despite its pleas that the responsibility lies with local authorities.

Now WHO officials have said that PrEP – taken with tenofovir, alone, or in combination with emtricitabine or lamivudine – should be put on its Essential Medicines List to prevent HIV infection.

Commenting on the news, Dr Michael Brady, medical director at sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “By including PrEP in this list, WHO have reinforced the effectiveness of PrEP, and its essential role for global heath needs.

“Adding PrEP to our existing HIV prevention strategies, alongside condoms, treatment and regular testing, means we would have everything we need to bring an end to HIV transmission in the UK; where currently 17 people are newly diagnosed with HIV every day.

“Scotland recently made history by becoming the first country to announce it will make PrEP available on the NHS. Wales has also taken a momentous step forward by announcing a three-year pilot that will reach those at risk of HIV.

“However, in England a long-awaited PrEP trial is still yet to materialise, six months after it was promised. We must not let PrEP become a postcode lottery – it should be available to all those at risk, as soon as possible, regardless of where they live.”

The Essential Medicines List, which was first developed in 1977 and is updated every two years, is used to help countries make decisions about which products they ensure are available for their populations.

“Safe and effective medicines are an essential part of any health system,” said Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health systems and innovation.

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