Daily Mail claims HIV-preventing meds are ‘lifestyle drugs’ with ‘skewed values’
The Daily Mail has been accused of perpetuating stigma, after a report branded HIV-preventing meds as ‘lifestyle drugs’ representing ‘skewed values’.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada can reduce people’s chances of being infected with HIV by up to 92-99 percent if taken daily.
The drug is endorsed by the World Health Organisation and is available in a number of countries to at-risk groups including sex workers, gay men, and people in serodiscordant relationships.
Health experts say rolling out PrEP in the UK would be cost-effective if it leads to even a small reduction in HIV infections, as the lifetime cost of just one HIV infection can be up to £380,000.
But despite a pilot scheme proving PrEP drugs are incredibly effective at reducing HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM), NHS England declined to make a decision on the drugs earlier this year, suggesting it was up to local councils.
The High Court yesterday ruled that NHS England is indeed responsible for commissioning the drugs after a challenge from an HIV charity – but the Daily Mail is not happy.
The newspaper led with the story today, claiming that the use of the drug represents a “skewed sense of values” because it “encourages” risky sexual behaviour.
It claimed that the cost of the “£5000-a-year lifestyle drug” would mean that people would be denied cataract surgery due to the cost of the service, even though NHS England has carried out no official cost-effectiveness assessment of the drug.
The story has inflated the cost of the drug by 10 times by using the price of branded medication. Generic PrEP drugs would cost less than £500 a year – and the total cost of an initial PrEP rollout is estimated as £10-20 million per year, with money saved in the long term due to the reduction in HIV infections.
The story was also picked up by the Times, who contradictorily reported claims PrEP would lead to “children with cystic fibrosis will be refused a drug to help them breathe”.
A spokesperson for the National AIDS Trust hit out at NHS England sources for the stories, for suggesting PrEP would impact other services without carrying out a cost-effectiveness assessment.
NAT said: “In their press statements, NHS England has also said that were they to fund PrEP they would not be able to fund other interventions, for example for children with cystic fibrosis.
“No assessment has as yet been made of the cost benefit of PrEP and what level of prioritisation it will be afforded.
“Every policy funded involves money being spent on that policy and not on a policy which in the end is not funded.
“To single just PrEP out as a policy which would be funded at the expense of others is invidious, prejudices NHS England’s position in relation to PrEP and raises serious questions as to the integrity and impartiality of NHS England’s approach.”
Conservative MP Mike Freer, Chair of the All-Party Group on HIV/AIDS, also condemned NHS England and the coverage for suggesting that other services would lose out due to PrEP.
He told PinkNews: “The behaviour of NHS England in putting one group of patients against another is wholly unprofessional.
“NHS England had previously agreed to fund the drug then decided it wasn’t in their remit.
“To suggest it is this patient group or another was never the argument and NHS England are showing themselves to be petty and spiteful when they should be clinically evaluating PrEP. PrEP is likely to be for one or two years – about £10,000 compared to the lifetime costs of testing HIV at £380,000.
“Plus, when the drug comes off patent in 2018 the costs will plummet.”