UK court rules health service can fund HIV prevention drug

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s state-funded health service is responsible for paying for an HIV-prevention drug that has been called a “game changer” in the fight against AIDS, a court ruled Tuesday.

The health service said it would appeal, which means the drug is still some way from becoming widely available in Britain.

The National AIDS Trust charity argued that health authorities have an ethical duty to fund pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which greatly reduces the risk of becoming infected with HIV.

The National Health Service argued that it “does not have the legal power to commission PrEP,” because preventative public health measures are the responsibility of local government.

Judge Nicholas Green said there was a strong case for preventative treatment, “but one governmental body says it has no power to provide the service and local authorities say they have no money.”

The judge ruled 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 NHS could still decline to prescribe the drug if it decides it is not good value for money. It estimates it would cost between 10 and 20 million pounds ($13 million and $26 million) a year to make it available.

The health service said it would appeal Tuesday’s ruling, but would also review the evidence about PrEP in the meantime.

Some have argued that the drug might encourage high-risk, unprotected sexual behavior, but it has been endorsed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

Dr. Michael Brady, medical director of AIDS charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the drug was a “game changer” that would “significantly increase the momentum in our fight against the virus.”