Scotland has become the first part of the UK to make a controversial drug which aims to prevent HIV available on the NHS.
The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) has approved the treatment PrEP, which has been shown to reduce the risk of infection in people who are at high risk by more than 90%.
Campaigners who had called for the drug to be made available hailed the SMC for “taking this bold step”, saying the medicine is a “vital opportunity” to reduce the number of new HIV cases.
SMC chairman Dr Alan MacDonald said the drug “when used together with safer sex practices may help to reduce the spread of HIV, which is an ongoing priority for the Scottish Government”.
In England, the NHS has announced a large scale clinical trial of the drug, which has the brand name Truvada, in 2017-18.
Charities HIV Scotland, the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, Waverley Care and NAT (National Aids Trust) had joined together to campaign for the drug to be made available in the PrEP4Scotland Coalition.
A statement from the group said: “We applaud the SMC for taking this bold step to tackling HIV in Scotland. PrEP provides opportunities to reinvigorate how people at higher risk of HIV exposure engage with testing and prevention opportunities, and it is a vital opportunity to make a real reduction in the number of new HIV transmissions.”
George Valiotis, chief executive of HIV Scotland, added the drug would be “an essential addition to Scotland’s HIV prevention approach”.
Robert McKay, national director for the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, said: “Today, Scotland has made history in the fight against the HIV epidemic. PrEP can now be used as a vital tool - alongside condom use, regular testing and early treatment - to help bring an end to HIV transmission in Scotland.
“Not only will this make a life-changing difference to individuals by protecting them from a lifelong and stigmatised condition, but for every person who would have become HIV positive without PrEP, NHS Scotland will save £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs.”
NAT chief executive Deborah Gold said the “game-changing prevention tool has the potential to massively reduce HIV rates and turn Scotland into a model internationally of how to do HIV prevention well”.
She added: “The speed and decisiveness of the Scottish process contrasts starkly with delays in the other three UK nations.”
Waverley Care chief executive Grant Sugden said: “This is a ground-breaking decision that has the potential to reduce new HIV infections and also improve the quality of life of at-risk communities in Scotland.
“HIV still looms large over the lives of many gay and bisexual men, with damaging consequences for their relationships and their physical and emotional health. PrEP can play a role in addressing this, helping to rebuild confidence and self-esteem and allowing men to lead healthier, happier lives.”
Gordon Garioch, 53, from Aberdeen, is currently taking a generic version of the drug which he buys online.
He said: “For me PrEP is a reassurance - I used to worry all the time. I have always been cautious, but some of my friends have been cautious and got HIV. Taking PrEP has allowed me to take control of my sexual health, and therefore both my physical and mental health.
“I feel by taking PrEP I am being responsible to myself, but I am also being responsible to my sexual partners.”
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “We welcome the SMC’s decision to approve PrEP, which has the potential to make a significant contribution to the reduction of HIV infection rates.
“PrEP is not a replacement for using condoms, which safely prevent the transmission of a number of different STIs. It will also remain important to have regular sexual health check-ups.
“We will now work with NHS Boards to ensure the SMC’s decision is implemented as quickly as possible.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “This is a very welcome announcement and allows Scotland to lead the way in this ground-breaking prevention method.
“It is a historic decision that could lead to a transformational reduction in the number of new HIV transmissions. I applaud all the campaigners who have fought so hard for this for years.
“It is now vital that the SNP Government ensures all NHS boards have the funds required so that PrEP can be made available to those who need it.