Local authorities told to give free condoms to gay people to curb HIV transmissions
Local health authorities in the UK have been advised by a health watchdog to give out free condoms to men who have sex with men and young people to curb rising HIV and gonorrhea numbers.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) gave the guidance, opening up a consultation, and saying condoms need to be more accessible to the 16-24 age group.
This comes just days after NHS England lost a High Court battle after saying it would not fund HIV-preventing PrEP drugs for those most at risk of HIV transmission.
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.
NHS England had declined to make a decision on the drugs earlier this year, suggesting it was up to local councils – but the High Court yesterday ruled that NHS England is indeed responsible for commissioning the drugs after a challenge from an HIV charity.
The NICE guidance says condoms need to be free to men who have sex with men and young people.
“We know condoms can protect against many sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis,” Christine Carson, programme director of the centre for guidelines at NICE told the Guadian.
“The recent increase in rates of gonorrhoea and syphilis among men who have sex with men has been attributed to high levels of sex without using a condom.
“If local authorities and other commissioners can work together to increase condom availability and use among high-risk groups we could significantly reduce the rates of STIs.”
The guidance from NICE suggests that local authorities should set up condom schemes which should also be linked to sexual advice and counselling.
The advice was welcomed by FPA, the sexual health charity, but it suggested that more needed to be done than just provide free condoms.
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CEO Natika H Halil said: “As well as making condoms more easily and widely available, it’s also really important to back that up with education and support and to think about what barriers may exist to people actually choosing to use them.
“This should start with statutory sex and relationships education in schools so young people are equipped with the skills and confidence they need to have those important conversations about safer sex with partners.”
Adding: “Condoms are already available for free in some places but there are always opportunities to reach more people, including in non-traditional health settings.
“It’s also important to reiterate the fact that condoms protect against both unplanned pregnancy and STIs, so even if you are using another method of contraception and don’t think about using condoms, you may be at risk of infection.”
After the Daily Mail and Times both splashed stories attacking PrEP with some reports calling it a “lifestyle drug”, Channel 5 show The Wright Stuff featured one of the worst headlines on the subject yet.
The show featured a discussion under the headline: “FREE £20M HIV DRUG FOR GAYS WHO WON’T USE CONDOMS?”https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/08/03/this-might-be-the-most-offensive-headline-about-prep-so-far/