Sexual health experts have warned that an NHS trial for HIV-preventing drugs could be full in just a matter of weeks.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada, which can drastically reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV, will be made available for free on the NHS next month as part of a three-month trial.
The drug is recommended for groups considered to be at high risk of exposure to HIV, most significantly men who have sex with men.
A three-year trial of the drug is set to launch next month, with 10,000 places available to the IMPACT trial via participating sexual health clinics across England.
Pill Bottle over Gay Flag with label “PrEP” (stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). PreP treatment is used to prevent HIV infection
However, sexual health experts have warned that a flood of demand from the gay community could lead to all the places being snapped up quickly – leaving others without access to the drugs.
Sexual health campaigners estimate that there are already around 8,000 people who are on PrEP in the country using drugs bought privately online.
A survey carried out by PrEP advocacy sites iwantPrEPnow and PrEPster finding that nearly all of those already taking PrEP are planning to transfer to the trial scheme when it launches.
With just 10,000 places on the trial available, campaigners have warned that people could end up being turned away and left at risk.
Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM said: “The effectiveness of PrEP in preventing new HIV infections has been well-established, both in trials and in practice.
“I welcome that we now have a timeline for this major trial to begin in England but remain concerned that the ambition is set too low.
“The demand for PrEP, particularly from gay and bisexual men who are well-informed about it, means that the limited number of places on the trial are likely to go rapidly.
“Unless the scope of the trial is increased, we will see people turned away, many of whom may become HIV positive as a result.”
Greg Owen, co-founder of iwantPrEPnow said: “This survey for the first time gives us a much clearer picture about the number of PrEP users in England.
“Now we know where people are buying their PrEP from, we can extrapolate from the sales of Dynamix – the only supplier that provides us with sales data to the UK.
“We’ve been estimating for the past few months that between 6-8,000 people are buying PrEP online in the UK and that figure is substantiated by the data from the survey.”
PrEPster, which has helped people privately access drugs for PrEP prior to the NHS trial, says it will remain in operation despite the IMPACT announcement.
Will Nutland, co-founder of PrEPster said, “Not everyone who currently self-sources PrEP will meet the criteria for enrolment on to the trial.
“As such, we’ll continue to provide information about how to obtain PrEP safely and legally online, and work with clinical colleagues to ensure that PrEP support continues to be provided to PrEP users who are not on the trial.”