A British judge has decided that the state health service NHS was responsible for paying for an HIV-prevention drug. AIDS activists hail the drug as a "game changer" that could drastically cut the risk of infection.
The London High Court ruled against the NHS on Tuesday, rejecting their argument that local authorities should pay for the medication.
The health service argues that it is not in charge of disease prevention, which they claim includes the so-called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug. This claim was challenged by the National AIDS Trust, who believe the NHS has an ethical obligation to pay for the drug.
In the Tuesday ruling, Judge Nicholas Green said that the health service "erred in deciding that it has no power or duty" to commission the treatment.
"The power of NHS England includes commissioning for preventative purposes, and this includes for HIV-related drugs," Green said.
The issue has sparked a social media debate, with some users claiming that state should not be responsible for risky behavior.
Reducing infection risk
Dr. Michael Brady of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the drug was a "game changer" that would "significantly increase the momentum in our fight against the virus."
PrEP works to disable HIV and stops it from multiplying. It can reduce the risk of transfer during sex by over 90 percent, according to clinical studies on the Truvada pill by US biopharmaceutical company Gilead.
The drug is becoming increasingly popular in the US, and European Medicines Agency recommended it for preventative use last month.
Fighting for funds
However, AIDS activists are still facing many obstacles in their push to get Truvada covered by the NHS.
The health service said it would appeal the Tuesday verdict. Even after losing the case, health officials would need to evalue PrEP against other financial priorities.
"Of course, this does not imply that PrEP - at what could be a cost of 10-20 million pounds ($13-26 million) a year – would actually succeed as a candidate for funding when ranked against other interventions," said Jonathan Fielden, NHS England's head of specialized commissioning.
Submitting better prices "would clearly affect the likelihood that their drug could be commissioned."
Over 4,000 people are infected with HIV in the UK every year, with gay men being the most vulnerable group.
dj/kms (Reuters, AP)