Belfast Telegraph

Ex-DUP minister Wells has 'grave concerns' over pill that can prevent HIV

By Brett Campbell

A former DUP Health Minister has criticised the introduction to the Northern Ireland Health Service of a pill that can prevent people contracting HIV.

The drug known as PrEP, which can reduce the chance of high risk individuals contracting the virus by up to 86%, will be administered by clinicians at the Belfast Trust's new HIV Prevention Clinic as part of a £450,000 drive aimed at revolutionising sexual health services.

However, former DUP Minister said he had "grave concerns" about the scheme when he led the Department of Health.

The specialist pilot scheme, based at the Royal Victoria Hospital's GUM clinic and funded by the Health and Social Care Board's Transformation Fund, will run for an initial two years.

Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland Dr Michael McBride said the department must look at how it can deliver "dynamic" preventative services to "truly transform" health care provision.

Last year 84 new cases of the disease were diagnosed locally, an increase of four compared to 2016, despite the number of new cases falling elsewhere in the UK to the lowest level since 2000.

The reasons for the discrepancy are unclear, but the statistics showed gay and bisexual men were disproportionately affected.

Dr Carol Emerson, the lead clinician for HIV at the Belfast Trust, described the new service as "a very exciting development" that would play a vital role in empowering people to protect themselves from an "indiscriminate" disease.

She also said it is not simply about "PrEP on demand" but rather about offering a range of services including advice, counselling and testing.

But speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, Mr Wells said: "Can you imagine a drug company came up with a cure for lung cancer as a result of smoking? Would we make that drug universally available to all smokers or would we urge smokers to give up?

"The whole premise of public health is to urge people to make wise lifestyle choices, not to make unwise choices."

Mr Wells also questioned why the taxpayer should pick up the tab for the cost.

LGBT campaigner Greg Owen branded Mr Wells' comments "homophobic" because they suggested gay sex was detrimental to an individual's health.

"Are we seriously going to have a person who was formerly in office as a health minister compare sex, which is one of the driving forces of life, to a smoking analogy?" he asked

"Are you saying no one should have sex, or are you using this as a homophobic thing?"

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