Four London sexual health clinics saw dramatic falls in new HIV infections among gay men of around 40 per cent last year, compared with 2015 This decline may be mostly due to thousands of people buying medicines called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which cut the chance of catching the virus, online.
Highlight The pills are just more cheaply available from the online India based pharmacies. The UK national medical program is making it difficult and costly to obtain. The pills seem to be effective for reducing transmission of HIV
To avoid paying £400 a month for private prescriptions of the brand-name drug Truvada, growing numbers are buying generic versions from online pharmacies in India and Swaziland for £40 a month, through a UK website called I Want PrEP Now.
Some sexual health doctors now help people who source PrEP online by providing blood tests to check the pills are real and urine tests to ensure people aren’t getting kidney damage as a side effect. So far no pills have turned out to be fake.
Some people also manage to get free PrEP through the NHS by claiming they were exposed to HIV through unprotected sex in the past few days. This gets them a month’s worth of pills and the supply can be continued by “clinic hopping”: attending different hospitals every month using false names.
Just over half of new UK infections are in gay men, so such a drastic drop could significantly slow the epidemic.
Sheena McCormack of the London clinic 56 Dean Street says the fall in infection rates is unlikely to be due to more condom use, as rates of other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis were about the same in 2016 as the year before.
The best argument for using PrEP is that it works so well at reducing new infections, says Jason Domino, who has been using the medicine for two years, after a scare when a partner turned out to be HIV-positive. “You’re tackling an infection that’s hugely expensive to address,” he says. “It saves the NHS money.”