Everybody is talking about PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) right now; a revolutionary new drug that is cutting the contraction of HIV between 76% and 99% depending on the frequency it is taken. So, the High Court has ruled that NHS England should fund the roll out of this HIV prevention drug. Sounds hunky dory, right? Well, no, because we're now being told that saving lives is less important than homophobia.
It is common knowledge that, although not exclusive to, HIV more frequently effects MSM (men who have sex with men) than most other groups. That fact alone is the reason why the public funding of PrEP is up for debate in the first place. True to past form, The Daily Mail has criticized the High Court's decision to fund this "lifestyle drug", and on its front page no less. It argues that this funding will detract from the quality of treatment for cancer patients and amputees at the reprieve of 'promiscuous' LGBT+ men. Apparently trying to save LGBT+ lives is indicative of a "skewed set of values".
As deplorable as this stance is, minority groups are used to dealing with this sort of reactionary intolerance from Britain's most famous daily hate document. What is most disheartening about the opposition to PrEP is the stigmatization coming directly from the NHS itself. Britain's revered public health service has released lists of treatments it claims it will be unable to provide if they are forced to fund dispensation of PrEP, including treatments for conditions like cystic fibrosis and lymphoma.
Apparently, PrEP would cause such a dent in the NHS' funding that it only makes sense for them to spend yet more public money appealing the High Court's decision, which they plan to. So, in order to prevent heterosexual people paying for preventative treatment of a disease that affects a group whose lifestyle choices aren't deemed worthy of protecting, that same group is having to fund a public health body to promote their own stigmatization.
Arguments have been made that making PrEP more readily available to MSM that promiscuity will increase and thus, so will cases of STIs. By that very same logic, we should surely stop publicly funding drugs which increase insulin secretion for fears it will lead to higher consumption of high GI foods. Surely we should stop funding the morning-after pill because that too will increase promiscuity? Providing Statins will only mean people will eat more food which is high in saturated fat, right? And whilst we're at it, let's scrap cancer treatments; the last thing we want is an uptake in consumption of carcinogens.
Ever notice how these arguments are never made? Well, that's because "lifestyle choices" like eating food that's bad for you, and heterosexual sex are considered unavoidable events that have inevitable health consequences. What you do with your body in a sexual capacity only becomes an impermissible "lifestyle choice" when two people of the same gender are involved. It is not, and never has been the NHS' place to police what people do with their bodies.
It's important to remember that HIV does not only affect MSM. It could even affect heterosexual people, and you can bet every pound you've got, if contraction rates were at the same levels as they are in the LGBT+ community then this debate would be a foregone conclusion. And as it happens, some studies have found that the contraction rates of receptive vaginal sex are very similar to that of insertive anal sex.
Maybe the next time somebody tells you that the NHS, the "closest thing we have to a national religion", is so wonderful, you can remind them of this episode. The time that NHS England spent public money trying to deny treatment for MSM because the sex they have isn't well-regarded.
Over 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK, with 6,000 new diagnoses every year. Instead of endorsing a simple scheme to squash these numbers, the NHS has promoted the publicly funded stigmatization of LGBT+ men and indirectly blamed them for future shortcomings in the treatment of other patients. Regardless, of your stance on PrEP, that is despicable. Sex happens, and sometimes, there are health consequences, and no matter what gender you're doing it with, every sexual orientation deserves parity of health care.
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