Welsh trial of HIV prevention drug shows early signs of success

All patients involved in a Wales-wide trial of a drug designed to guard against HIV have so far been successfully protected against the disease, figures obtained by Welsh Conservatives show.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, Angel Burns AM, said the news pointed to an “early indication that PrEP has the potential to usher in a new era of decline for HIV’s proliferation in Wales”.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis – or PrEP – is a pill which when taken daily reduces the risk of getting HIV by more than 90%.

A three-year trial of the drug was announced in Wales back in April 2017 with an initial roll-out set for the same summer, despite advice from the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, who said the cost-effectiveness of the drug “had not been proven.”

Responding to a Written Assembly Question (see Notes) from Angela Burns AM, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Health Secretary Vaughan Gething AM confirmed that since PrEP’s trial launch in June 2017, “no new diagnoses of HIV” have been recorded in people taking the drug.

Information released by Public Health Wales states that among the cohort taking the drug, 18 sexually transmitted infections were recorded in the same five-month period (July 2017 to November 2017 – the most recent data on record).

These include nine gonorrhoea diagnoses, seven chlamydia, and two syphilis. The monthly rate of HIV infections also declined by more than half, with July seeing five new infections compared to two new infections in November.

Commenting, Angela Burns AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“These figures are an early indication that PrEP has the potential to usher in a new era of decline for HIV’s proliferation in Wales.

“Obviously the trial is still in its inchoate stages and will need to be monitored closely, but if this positive trend endures then there is no reason why the Cabinet Health Secretary cannot make this drug routinely available on the Welsh NHS.

“It’s important to remember, however, that PrEP doesn’t completely guard you against HIV - and not at all against other diseases - so it’s vital that sexual health practitioners continue to encourage the use of condoms and other prevention methods.”