Drug that prevents HIV to be rolled out in UK on NHS in bid to eliminate virus

A drug which prevents HIV infections will be made available on the NHS in a bid to eliminate new transmissions of the virus within 10 years.

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, confirmed PrEP – or pre-exposure prophylaxis – is to be made routinely available to patients deemed to be at greater risk of catching HIV from April.

He said: "We are rolling out PrEP and making it available across the country – with evidence showing it almost completely eradicates the chances of getting HIV. This will benefit tens of thousands of people's lives, and drive us towards our ambition of zero HIV transmissions in this decade."

The MP said having HIV was once a "death sentence" and it still has "a devastating impact on so many lives across the country".

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NHS England has conducted a three-year study involving more than 20,000 people.

It will now cover the funding for the drug. More than £16million will be made available to local authorities in England in 2020/21 to commission services for the first time to patients.

The move has largely been welcomed, with Sir Elton John praising the decision.

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The musician and Aids activist told The Sunday Times : "Taking PrEP prevents HIV from being passed on, which is truly incredible.

"It is the right decision for the UK Government to roll this out more widely to minimise the spread of this disease so more people are protected – which is critical in fighting any epidemic."

PrEP, which is already available in Scotland to people who are considered to be at high risk of contracting HIV, involves those negative of it taking antiretroviral medicine, which work by stopping the virus replicating in the body.

There are thought to be around 103,800 people living with HIV in the UK , and around 7% of those are not aware they are HIV positive.

Public Health England said new diagnoses of HIV in the UK fell to their lowest level in almost two decades in 2018 – 4,484 people – due to the success of preventative measures.

A trial of the drug will soon take place in Wales.

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