Preventative HIV drug to be rolled out across England on the NHS

An HIV testing kit Credit: PA

A drug which prevents HIV infections is to be made available on the NHS this year in a move to try and eliminate new transmissions of the virus within the decade.

From April, pre-exposure prophylaxis - known as PrEP - will be made routinely available to patients deemed to be at greater risk of catching HIV.

The move follows a three-year study by NHS England involving more than 20,000 people.

NHS England will cover the costs of the drug. Credit: PA

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the study had shown the drug "almost completely eradicates the chances of getting HIV," adding:

"This will benefit tens of thousands of people's lives, and drive us towards our ambition of zero HIV transmissions in this decade."

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

The Department of Health said local authorities will be given funding from April, with £16 million to be made available in 2020/21, to commission services in England for the first time to patients.

Sir Elton John said the UK Government had made the 'right decision'. Credit: PA

Musician and Aids activist Sir Elton John told the Sunday Times the decision was the "right" one.

Sir Elton said: "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 involves HIV negative people taking antiretroviral medicine, which work by stopping the virus replicating in the body.

The drug is already available in Scotland to people who are considered to be at high risk of contracting HIV, and a trial of the drug is taking place in Wales.

Most recent estimates suggest there were around 103,800 people living with HIV in the UK - according to figures from the Terrence Higgins Trust - and around 7 per cent of those are not aware they are HIV positive.

New diagnoses of HIV in the UK fell to their lowest level in almost two decades in 2018 - 4,484 people. Public Health England said this was due to the success of preventative measures including HIV testing, condom provision, and wider use of PrEP.

Chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, Ian Green, said the roll-out comes after a long-running battle by campaign groups.

Mr Green described PrEP as a "game-changer for HIV prevention in England".

Deborah Gold, the National Aids Trust chief executive, said: "Routine commissioning of PrEP brings us one step closer to our goal of ending new HIV transmissions by 2030, but many more lie ahead."