The government’s decision to fund routine provision of the HIV prevention medicine PrEP has been warmly welcomed by London boroughs, who point to PrEP’s crucial role in reducing HIV rates in the capital.
Up to now, PrEP has only been available in England via a limited number of free places on an NHS trial or by buying it privately. This announcement will make PrEP routinely available through sexual health clinics based on clinical need.
As the bodies responsible for commissioning sexual health services, London boroughs are integral to ensuring access to PrEP in the capital. The cross-party group London Councils had previously called on the government to fund routine commissioning of PrEP on a long-term basis.
Although London has the highest prevalence of HIV in the country, with 39,000 Londoners living with HIV (out of a UK total of 103,000), the capital has also made the fastest progress in reducing HIV. The latest data from Public Health England shows the steepest declines in new HIV diagnoses between 2015 and 2018 were among Londoners and the capital is on course to achieve zero new diagnoses by 2030.
Alongside increased testing, ongoing condom use, and early access to effective HIV treatment, PrEP is a key part of London’s HIV prevention strategy for the 2020s. Every averted case of HIV saves the NHS up to £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs.
Cllr Ray Puddifoot, London Councils’ Executive Member for Health & Care, said:
“Ministers have clearly listened to boroughs and come to the right decision. We’ve long been vocal advocates for PrEP because it’s a crucial part of London’s approach to tackling HIV. This announcement is great news for public health in the capital and a major boost to our efforts to end HIV altogether.”
London boroughs have collaborated to reduce HIV rates since 2014 through the London HIV Prevention Programme, which delivers co-ordinated city-wide HIV prevention and awareness campaigns as well as face-to-face outreach, testing and health promotion services. These include the Do It London campaign, an award-winning initiative that, since 2015, has helped Londoners understand how to prevent HIV transmission – including through using PrEP.
Paul Steinberg, lead commissioner of the London HIV Prevention Programme, said:
“This government funding will put local sexual health services on a much firmer footing to ensure PrEP is available to everyone who needs it. It’s an investment with the potential to deliver significant public health benefits and will make a real difference to the lives of many Londoners.
“Of course, further challenges remain. We must maintain our efforts to raise awareness of HIV among key at-risk communities, to reduce late diagnosis, and to diagnose the 2,100 Londoners who are currently living with HIV but are unaware of their status. But boroughs remain committed to continuing the excellent progress of the past few years so we can reach our goal of zero new HIV diagnoses in London by 2030.”
London is a member of the worldwide Fast-Track Cities initiative and became the first global city to exceed the UN’s ambitious HIV diagnosis and treatment targets. Working together with other cities, London has pledged to achieve three key HIV goals by 2030: zero new transmissions, zero deaths, and zero stigma.