Staff Writer Jax Gay
Florida has made history by being one of the first US states to offer free HIV-preventing medication statewide.
The Florida Department of Health has committed to a plan to provide PrEP across the state by the end of 2018, following a mandate from the state’s surgeon general.
The drug, known as ‘Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis’ and sold under the brand name Truvada, is a daily pill that can be up to 99% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV.
The rollout of the provision of PrEP initially began in October, with 16 out of the 67 counties in Florida currently dispensing PrEP.
However, the Florida Department of Health aims to have PrEP available for free in all counties by the end of the year.
Research from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2016 found that Florida had the third highest rate of new HIV infections in the country.
A spokesperson for the department Mara Gambineri welcomed the use of the HIV prevention strategy in the state.
Gambineri said: “Ensuring PrEP to those at highest risk for HIV infection, regardless of their ability to pay, is one of the four key components of the agency’s plan to eliminate HIV transmission and reduce HIV-related deaths.”
She continued to say that the free access to PrEP will be joined by additional screening and testing of vulnerable populations, public awareness programmes, and improved access to treatment for HIV positive people.
Research has shown that PrEP treatments can be very effective at lowering the risk of becoming infected with HIV.
PrEP is often recommended to groups of people who are statistically likely to face exposure to HIV, due to the prevalence of HIV among certain demographics.
These groups include men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender women, and people in serodiscordant relationships (where one person has HIV and the other does not).
The World Health Organisation showed its support for PrEP last summer when it added PrEP medications to its Essential Medicines List.
This list is used by many countries to increase access to medicines and guide decisions about which products they ensure are available for their populations.
In the UK there has been a large debate about the provision of PrEP, with NHS England referencing the cost of the drug.
However, studies have shown that providing the HIV-preventing drug could save the NHS £1 billion over 80 years by limiting new infections.
NHS England began a three-year trial last September, with nationwide access to the drugs expected by April 2018.