Research by University College London has estimated PrEP could save the NHS £1 billion over the next 80 years.
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a drug that can be taken to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV as a result of condom-less sex.
Trials have shown that taking PrEP can reduce the risk of infection by up to 86%.
The drug is a huge factor in the falling number of new HIV cases being diagnosed in the UK, along with increased awareness and the accessibility of HIV testing.
In Scotland, PrEP is readily available, however NHS England have launched a three-year trial before they make a decision on whether they want to make it available to all patients.
As a result, PrEP must be purchased privately, with many opting to order their pills online.
On a financial basis, PrEP would initially cost the NHS money in order to provide the drugs. However, when taking into account the money spent on treating those already infected with HIV, UCL have projected that PrEP could save the NHS £1bn within 80 years.
It’s also possible that the cost of PrEP may fall as alternatives are produced over time.
The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal stated it could take up to 40 years for PrEP to be considered cost-effective, reaching a point where savings from treating HIV patients could equal the cost of PrEP to the NHS.
Men who have sex with other men are the group at the highest risk of contracting HIV, and it is estimated that making PrEP readily available could prevent one in four of these cases.
Dr Alison Roger from the UCL team spoke to the BBC about making PrEP available, referring to the decision as a “no-brainer”, saving the NHS money in the long term.
While the health service decided against making PrEP freely available, it was agreed a trial for 10,000 patients would be funded in select clinics across the UK.
Previous trials such as PROUD have shown overwhelmingly positive results, therefore if the PrEP Impact Trial shows similar results, this may lead to PrEP becoming available via the NHS in England.
The medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, Dr Michael Brady, said: “It is important that all who need PrEP can access it, and evidence like this reinforces the need for PrEP to be fully commissioned and given a long-term, sustainable home on the NHS in England.”
UCL predicts that in the first year PrEP is available, 4,000 men will begin taking the drug, increasing to 40,000 men in 15 years, continuing the downward curve in the number of new HIV cases in the UK.
PrEP is an incredible advancement in the combat of HIV, however it’s important to address that it doesn’t protect against other STIs and therefore having safe sex remains advisable.
Words Jamie Dixon