PrEP – preventing HIV?

A couple of weeks ago, I read an interesting, if not startling, BBC article surrounding the Scottish NHS. This lead me to research more into the treatment which the NHS in Scotland has recently approved to fund and routinely offer to its people. This treatment is known as ‘PrEP’, and it has been proven that a daily dose can protect those at risk of contracting the virus [1].

How does PrEP work?

PrEP is an anti-retroviral drug, fitting with the nature of HIV as a retrovirus. This means that HIV is composed on RNA, and contain reverse transcriptase, which is an enzyme. This allows the viral RNA to be transcribed into DBA after entering a host cell. This DNA can consequently be integrated into the DNA of the host cell and expressed – one of the key problems with treating HIV is that it is a retrovirus. [2]

PrEP therefore, prevents the virus from multiplying if it enters the body [1] without major side affects [4] . Therefore, it is a preventative treatment as opposed to a ‘cure’ for HIV. Taking the pill consistently each day has been shown to reduced the risk of HIV infection by 86% alone [4] – a staggering number, however with other preventative methods such as the use of condoms, this number increases [3].

What are the benefits?

What is remarkable about this drug however, is that it is estimated 1900 Scottish people could benefit from the drug, and the huge amount of money (around £450 a month per person) which the Scottish NHS is investing, [1], but also saving. For each person who does not become HIV positive due to the use of PrEP, the NHS in Scotland with save £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs [1] – prevention is better than cure, they say.

I think this is huge step in the right direction, when fighting an incredibly stigmatised disease. The treatment has the potential to help improve quality of life, save money and to reduce the numbers of those suffering with HIV in the future. I can only help that our NHS follows in the steps of NHS Scotland

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-39552641

[2] http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=5344

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html

[4] http://www.tht.org.uk/sexual-health/About-HIV/Pre-exposure-Prophylaxis

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