A drug that prevents HIV infections will be made available on the NHS, it has been announced.
PrEP – or pre-exposure prophylaxis – will be made routinely available to patients deemed to be at greater risk of catching the virus.
The move is hoped to eliminate new transmissions by the end of the decade.
Having HIV was once a “death sentence” and it still has “a devastating impact on so many lives across the country”, said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But he said PrEP “almost completely eradicates the chances of getting HIV” and making it available on the NHS will “benefit tens of thousands of people’s lives”.
NHS England will cover the costs of the drug, having carried out a three-year study involving more than 20,000 people.
Local authorities will be given funding from April, with £16m to be made available in 2020/21, to commission services in England for the first time to patients.
PrEP involves HIV negative people taking antiretroviral medicine, which work by stopping the virus replicating in the body.
Musician and Aids activist Sir Elton John said the decision was the “right” one.
“Taking PrEP prevents HIV from being passed on, which is truly incredible,” he told The Sunday Times.
“It is the right decision for the UK government to roll this out more widely to minimise the spread of this disease so more people are protected – which is critical in fighting any epidemic.”
The medicine is already available in Scotland to people who are considered to be at high risk of contracting HIV, and a trial of the drug is taking place in Wales.
Some 103,800 people in the UK have HIV – of which around 7% are not aware they are positive, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust.
New diagnoses of HIV in the country fell to their lowest level in almost two decades in 2018 – 4,484 people, Public Health England said.
HIV testing, condom provision, and wider use of PrEP were credited with the drastic fall.
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