‘Game changer’ HIV drug prescribed to 1,900 Scots in first year

A drug to help prevent HIV have been prescribed to almost 1,900 people in the year since it was released in Scotland.

Described as a potential “game-changer in Scotland’s drive to eliminate HIV”, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) can be prescribed free-of-charge to those who have a very-high risk of becoming infected with HIV.

The number of prescriptions of the drug exceeded the expectations of NHS National Services Scotland (NSS), who revealed that 99% of those accessing it were men who have sex with other men.

Professor David Goldberg, the chair of Scotland’s National HIV PrEP Coordinating Group, said: “Sexual health service teams throughout the country should be congratulated for successfully implementing an exciting new measure which has the potential to be a game-changer in Scotland’s drive to eliminate HIV infection from its population.

“The programme has already entered its second year and the focus is now also on reaching other groups who could benefit from PrEP; these include some women and transgender people.”

Chief executive of HIV Scotland Nathan Sparling said: “Scotland was the first country in the UK to embrace the PrEP revolution with full and free access.

“This report shows it was a great first year, with more people at risk of HIV taking it than anyone anticipated.

“We know that people are accessing PrEP to prevent HIV, and we know from this report that more people are considering the importance of good sexual health than ever before.

“People are telling us that PrEP is working for them, and we should be proud of our collective achievement.”

Although too early to assess the impact on HIV transmission in Scotland, clinical trials have shown PrEP to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted HIV by 75-86%.

Dr Rak Nandwani, chair of the HIV Clinical Leads in Scotland, added: “A great deal of work has already been done to prevent HIV transmission in Scotland.

“This includes condom provision, routine antenatal testing, the provision of injecting equipment and a range of behavioural interventions.

“More recently, evidence has shown that HIV drugs are highly effective in reducing HIV transmission from people who are already living with HIV when the amount of virus present in blood becomes undetectable.

“PrEP is a further addition to the toolbox to help us stop people being infected with HIV”.

PrEP is available across Scotland, with most patients accessing it through sexual health services, although NSS figures show that roughly 20% of those receiving PrEP had never visited a sexual health clinic before.

Prof Claudia Estcourt, professor in sexual health and HIV medicine at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “The availability of PrEP has encouraged people at high risk of HIV to engage with sexual health services, many of whom had not used services before.

“This is enabling people to take pro-active steps to a healthier sex life by taking advantage of the wide ranging screening and prevention services on offer.”