New HIV Drug funded by the NHS?

HIV has caught the headlines in the UK again in recent weeks when the National Health Service, NHS England, was brought to the High Court over funding of the new drug type PrEP. The High Court has ruled that NHS England can fund the new drug type Pre-Expose Prophylaxis (PrEP) to help combat HIV.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, more commonly known as HIV, is still seen at large within the UK with approximately 104,000 people living with HIV in 2014. HIV is commonly seen as ‘the gay disease’ however, this is not the only demographic affected. While the largest proportion of those with HIV is MSM (men who have sex with men), the second largest proportion is in fact heterosexual Black African men and women. With modern medicine, such as the early form of PrEP drugs, AZT which was distributed in the late 1990s, being diagnosed with HIV is no longer a death sentence.

The HIV virus is spread through bodily fluids, most commonly being semen and blood during unprotected sexual intercourse. Once it infects the body, it hijacks cells and uses their resources to create new HIV viruses.  When the new HIV viruses are released, they infect even more of the body and the cycle continues. During the initial infection, many appear to have ‘flu-like symptoms’. This is as HIV often attacks cells of the immune system to replicate, specifically T-Helper White Blood Cells, known as CD4 Cells. This replication process kills the CD4 cells, leaving the body more vulnerable to infection. When the number of CD4 cells decreases below a certain point, the patient is diagnosed with  Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

A 3D rendered image of the HIV virus. Photo by iStockphoto


PrEP currently costs £400 a month per person to administer and has been shown to cut HIV infection rates by up to 90%.It is an antiretroviral (anti-retro-viral) drug, which means it stops the HIV virus from replicating inside the host cell, therefore stopping the spread of HIV should a person become infected. Specifically, the drugs block the making of new RNA specific to the HIV Virus,  a molecule used to create new structures in cells. The drug would be given to those who are HIV negative but have a high risk of coming into contact with the virus.

However not everyone is happy with this new court ruling; NHS England has claimed that the preventative drug was not their responsibility, but instead should be funded by HIV preventative bodies and local councils. It has also claimed that funding for PrEP may reduce funding for other medication. The National Aids Trust, the body that brought NHS England to the High Court after claims that NHS England did not have the power to fund PrEP, have announced they are thrilled with the news. NHS England have said they shall launch an appeal into the ruling given here before they begin funding PrEP.



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