Belfast Telegraph

Former Health Minister Jim Wells expresses 'grave concern' over introduction of HIV preventative drug in Northern Ireland

Former DUP Health Minister Jim Wells has revealed his "grave concerns" over the introduction of a new HIV preventative drug in Northern Ireland.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill that can be taken by people at high risk of developing HIV to reduce their chances of developing the disease. 

It was announced on Tuesday that a new HIV prevention clinic based in the Belfast Trust area would offer access to the PrEP drug.

PrEP can reduce someone's chances of catching HIV by up to 86%.

The drug was approved in the United States in 2012 and Europe in 2016.

Mr Wells served as Health Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive between September 2014 and May 2015.

The South Down MLA, who has had his party whip withdrawn following a disagreement, told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme that he had “grave concerns” about the approach when he was in the Executive.

He also warned that the provision of the drug goes against the basic purpose of having a public health service.

“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?” he asked.

“I think it would be the latter... 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 of people engaging in promiscuous behaviour which he said could cost the Department of Health in England as much as £30m a year.

Belfast Trust lead clinician Dr Carol Emerson would not reveal the cost in NI but said the medication is “not expensive” especially when compared to the average cost of treating an individual with HIV which is £380,000 throughout their life-time.   

Approximately 100 new cases of HIV are diagnosed every year in Northern Ireland with the number of new diagnoses rising each year despite a decline elsewhere in the UK.

LGBT campaigner Greg Owen, who is HIV+, branded Mr Wells comments as "homophobic" because it suggested gay sex was detrimental to your 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 said.

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

"This is outrageous, come on. This is 2018."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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