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Grassroots Activists Provide Thousands of At-Risk Individuals in the UK with Lifesaving HIV Drugs

JAN 17, 2017 | KRISTI ROSA
*Updated on 1/18/2016 at 9:39 AM EST

With 36.7 million individuals living with HIV, worldwide, preventive measures are imperative, particularly for those who are at increased risk of infection. Unfortunately, many individuals cannot afford pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that have been proven particularly successful in reducing HIV risk, such as Truvada. In some instances, such as in the United Kingdom, Truvada isn’t even available for public use.

However, some activists have dedicated their efforts to making generic forms of Truvada more easily accessible to at-risk citizens in the United Kingdom, and at a significantly cheaper price. Increased access to preventive drugs is thought to have contributed to a 40% reduction in HIV infections last year, according to a number of sexual health clinics in London.

A concept made famous by the film “Dallas Buyers Club,” these drug “buyers clubs,” are normally run by activists who set out to make generic HIV drugs accessible and affordable. In countries like the United Kingdom, where the National Health Service (NHS) has, in the past, refused to pay for the drugs to make them more widely available, websites such as PrEPster are the only avenue that individuals have to get access to PrEP as a means to protect themselves from infection.

PrEP can be lifesaving for individuals who are at increased risk of HIV infection. On a PrEP regimen, these individuals will take medications, such as Truvada, on a daily basis as a way of reducing their chances of contracting the infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when taken consistently and on a daily basis, PrEP can reduce HIV risk by a whopping 90%. In the United Kingdom, HIV medicine has been approved for use, but it is not widely accessible.

In response to NHS inaction, Will Nutland, PhD, research fellow in the Faculty of Public Health and Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, created PrEPster, a website that provides details for online pharmacies that are based in India and Swaziland, and through these pharmacies, individuals are able to obtain these drugs, according to a press release. PrEPster has partnered with clinics to ensure that the drugs  are both safe and effective. In addition to increasing accessibility, these generic drugs are also much cheaper, with “a difference of £360 ($439) each month.” Though it may seem too good to be true, the whole thing is “completely legal as long as the drugs are bought for a personal supply for up to three months at a time," and individuals are not purchasing the drugs directly through the website.

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