Thousands of queer men sign up for PrEP after historic rollout – but sexual health advocates warn some risk being left behind
More than 6,000 people have signed up to just a single PrEP provider in London since the HIV-preventative drug was rolled out across England on the NHS.
Since 1 October, 6,000 people have signed up for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) at 56 Dean Street, Europe’s busiest sexual health clinic, it was confirmed to PinkNews.
The daily drug is the most effective protection against HIV transmission.
But the long-awaited rollout may not be the fabled silver bullet for curtailing HIV transmissions if health officials do not ensure PrEP is distributed fairly to all, 50 of Britain’s top sexual health charities and organisations also warned.
People of colour, women and trans folk, among others, will be “left behind in accessing PrEP” if the government does not act, they said.
Black Africans will suffer ‘dire consequences’ if PrEP access is not ensured, charities warn.
Leaders from the Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust, PrEPster and more expressed simmering caution at the effectiveness of the rollout, saying in a joint statement that while PrEP is available “in principle, concerns exist whether the drug will be accessed by all who can benefit from it”.
The Department of Health and Social Care confirmed crucial funding for local authorities to start distributing PrEP across England from 1 October. A milestone, activists decreed, but in no way the end.
Such funding removed a thumping roadblock for boroughs to begin distributing the life-saving pill uncapped via the NHS.
But further blockades will remain if officials do not cobble the national programme together with schemes to better promote awareness of PrEP among certain groups such as Black African men and women, researchers advised.
The demographics suffer “dire consequences” from starting from a “disadvantaged position”.
“HIV Prevention England has found that Black African men and women are less likely to know about PrEP and may have misconceptions about what it means, who it is for and how to access it,” the statement said.
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“This is despite making up 44 per cent of new heterosexual HIV diagnoses in 2018. This is not equality.”
Other experts have warned of significant shortages of the drug if Britain goes through a hard Brexit.
Dean Street has sought to better amplify PrEP awareness by collaborating with LGBT+ powerhouses, such as Drag Race UK‘s Baga Chipz and Crystal alongside top adult entertainment stars, alongside creating a microsite to help people find out if PrEP is recommended for them.
“If you want to reach diverse LGBT+ audiences, and 18-25-year-old audiences, which 56 Dean Street do, porn stars who do Instagram reels and OnlyFans are a really effective way of getting sexual health messages out there,” volunteers at the clinic told PinkNews.
“Traditional gay celebrities are great, but almost everybody watches porn once in a while and these days the actors have their own social followings that they nurture and broadcast to, and LGBT+ audiences listen to what they say.”
They called on queer influencers to get behind the outreach scheme, noting they can find further information on the Dean Street website or by messaging the clinic directly on Instagram.