‘Game changer HIV drug’ could come to NI

A ‘game changing’ drug for preventing HIV could come to NI, with the DUP chair of Stormont’s Health Committee saying she would not oppose it.

The High Court in London has ruled that NHS England can commission the preventative drug PrEP, with NI campaigners welcoming the move.

Greg Owens, from Belfast but living in London, began taking PrEP around a year ago, but just a day later, found out that he had tested positive for HIV.

“I’d just told around 8,000 social media followers and friends that I was starting PrEP, so it was a bit of a moment,” he said.

“As a result of that I think it sort of resonated with people, as a person who had just missed the PrEP boat and I think that sparked something with people.

Greg is one of the leading campaigners in the UK for commissioning the drug through the NHS, running a website and blog dedicated to that goal.

“We have the potential now in the next 20 years to end HIV infections in the UK,” he said.

“I don’t understand why people aren’t grasping that.

“35 years we’ve lived with this virus and we’ve never had this opportunity before.”

The drug is taken on a daily basis and estimations place the reduction in risk of infection at around 90%.

Currently, there are around 95 new cases of HIV in NI every year, with the PrEP treatment costing around £400 per person per month.

Paula Bradley, DUP MLA and Chair of Stormont’s Health Committee, said that cost would be a factor but that she wasn’t against introducing the drug.

Stormont Health chair Paula Bradley said said she would consider the introduction of PrEP. Credit: UTV

“It will cause some controversy but I think people need to look at the full facts of this,” she said.

“I would remind people out there that HIV positive is not just a gay man’s disease.

“This disease affects so many people within our society, 41% of those living with HIV in NI are heterosexual.”

However, the drug is already being used by some people, who have sought it out without proper medical advice.

The Rainbow Project's John O'Doherty said that demand is there for Truvada. Credit: UTV

John O’Doherty from the Rainbow Project said that their members would welcome it.

“We know through our services that there are many people who want to access PrEP, those who have a high anxiety about the risk of contracting infection,” he said.

“This is really on the cutting edge in terms of medical practice, in terms of preventative measures.

“It’s something I believe NI should be working towards implementing.”

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said they would monitor the developing situation. Credit: UTV

A statement from the Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said they were looking at the drug.

The statement said her department was “closely monitoring the effectiveness of the anti-retroviral agent, Truvada” and that “any decision on the provision of PrEP will be based on the best available clinical evidence.”

The NHS in England is set to challenge the High Court ruling, but many MPs there are already calling for them to drop the challenge and approve the treatment as soon as possible.