Lib Dems promise to make protective HIV drug more accessible

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By Sarah Boseley Health editor

Everyone in the UK who is at risk of HIV infection will be able to get the drugs that can keep them safe if the Liberal Democrats come to power, the party has pledged.

Access to PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) has been a fraught issue. The antiretroviral drug tenofovir has been shown to give virtually complete protection against HIV infection and is available to those whose partners have HIV in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not automatically in England.

NHS England fought a legal action to deflect the costs of the drugs on to the local authorities, who are charged with public health, but lost. In 2017, it set up a trial, which meant cheaper versions of the drug could be given to 10,000 participants. This year, NHS England promised to double the numbers to 20,000 – but the trial ends in 2020 and there is no agreement as yet on how it will continue.

“Fifteen people in the last year have tested positive for HIV while waiting to get access to PrEP. That is 15 people who should not have to be living with HIV right now. It is totally unacceptable,” said Luciana Berger, the Liberal Democrat health, wellbeing and social care spokeswoman.

“Despite the clear evidence that PrEP is an effective way to prevent HIV, the Conservatives have continually buried their heads in the sand. For years the Liberal Democrats have been calling on the Conservatives to extend PrEP to everyone who needs it in England. But the Tories do not appear to care. They haven’t even bothered to mention PrEP or HIV in their manifesto.

“The Liberal Democrats will end this injustice. As part of our plan to build a brighter future we will ensure that anyone who needs PrEP in England will be able to access it for free.”