After years of stalling, England’s National Health Service will finally start covering PrEP in September. The NHS announced the rollout plan August 3, seven months after losing a court battle to block paying for the drug.
Only 10,000 people will have access to the drug at first, as part of three-year, $12.8 million trial. Sex clinics in London, Brighton, Liverpool Manchester, and Sheffield will begin administering it first, the remainder of the country by April 2018.
The hope is to launch full coverage nationwide some time after the three-year test run.
Some gay men have refused to wait, though: They’ve joined buyer’s clubs that allow them to purchase the drug legally from overseas pharmacies. Groups like PrePster and IWantPrEPNow are being credited with helping to lower new infection rates in England, which are down by a third.
But the government has long balked on paying for PrEP, insisting it should be covered by local authorities.
Harry Dodd, whose been taking the drug as part of a study at University College London, told the BBC there’s still a lot of stigma around PrEP.
“Too many people seem to think it will encourage a hedonistic lifestyle,” says the 25-year-old. “People reacted with cynicism when the contraceptive pill for women was first introduced.”
“This major new intervention should complement and supercharge the wide-ranging and increasingly successful effort to prevent HIV,” said Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. “It’s another milestone in more than three decades’ worth of progress in tackling one of humanity’s major health challenges.”
Both Scotland and Wales are already working on plans to introduce the drug on their health plans.