Why do newspapers insist on calling PrEP ‘controversial’?

NHS Scotland is set to offer the preventative HIV treatment

Image: NIAID

Scotland will become the first UK jurisdiction to offer preventative HIV treatment on the NHS, with individuals at high risk of infection set to receive treatment within weeks.

The medical case for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is irrefutable. It has been shown to reduce risk of transmission by 86 per cent. And although PrEP currently costs £450 a month, it is a far cheaper than treating an already-infected individual — the Terence Higgins Trust estimates the saving at £360,000.

So why, in their articles on the subject, do the Times and Telegraph describe the game-changing and cost-saving drug as ‘controversial’?

The Telegraph references unnamed ‘health officials’ who apparently ‘previously said that funding the expensive drug could mean children with cystic fibrosis, deaf children in need of hearing implants for hearing loss and amputees needing prosthetics could be denied treatment.’

Of course, every decision made about NHS spending potentially involves opportunity costs. In that PrEP is no different from other treatments.

The Times also cites unspecified sources:

“There has been opposition to Prep’s roll-out on the NHS, with a course costing £450 per month and some critics branding it a ‘lifestyle drug’ that could promote ‘risky’ sexual behaviour. In England, a large-scale clinical trial has been recommended after a series of legal battles over whether the NHS or councils should pay for the treatment.”

Who those critics are, or what motivates them, is unclear. Given that both papers extensively quote representatives of HIV/AIDS advocacy organisations, its strange that — if the treatment really is so controversial — they couldn’t find a single, specific source to quote in opposition to the treatment.

While it’s true that there has been a major legal case over the drug in England and Wales, over the NHS claim that local councils should be responsible for PrEP, that’s reflective of the financial pressures facing the health service overall, not of specific resistance to this treatment.

Thankfully, while the Times and Telegraph attempt to cloak their motivations for questioning PrEP, Ross Clark of the Spectator has no such qualms. The man who previously critiqued that government for trying to make the BBC ‘even more gay’ proudly displays his homophobia to the world.

In an article published yesterday, Clark writes:

“PrEP would be an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money at the best of times, but coming at a time when the NHS is desperately short of cash it is an outrage that the taxpayer is being called upon to subsidise people to take irresponsible risks: namely having unprotected sex with multiple partners.”

Now, if Clark wants to argue that those who take ‘irresponsible risks’ shouldn’t be supported by the taxpayer, PrEP is a strange place to start. Why not look at blood pressure medication, for example, which is prescribed to thousands of people who take ‘irresponsible risks’ through poor diet or lack of exercise? The cost to the taxpayer is vastly greater than that of PrEP will ever be.

Clark won’t argue that, nor should he. Because while the NHS should and does advocate prevention and responsible decision-making, its ultimate responsibility is to provide care to people who are ill, or at risk of becoming ill.

The reason Clark doesn’t think that maxim should apply here, and the reason the Telegraph and Times think PrEP is ‘controversial’ is that, despite the progress that has been made on LGBT rights, there is an enduring prejudice towards men who have sex with men.

All the evidence supports Scotland’s model of PrEP-provision. England should follow suit, and the right-wing media should put down its dog whistle.

See: Daily Mail calls HIV pill a ‘lifestyle drug’ for gay men


12 Responses to “Why do newspapers insist on calling PrEP ‘controversial’?”

  1. jameshogg

    “The medical case for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is irrefutable. It has been shown to reduce risk of transmission by 86 per cent. And although PrEP currently costs £450 a month, it is a far cheaper than treating an already-infected individual — the Terence Higgins Trust estimates the saving at £360,000.”

    No doubt the most pompous response to this, assuming the non-logic is taken all the way, is going to be “well why should the NHS do anything about those infected with HIV in the first place? They brought it on themselves and as far as I’m concerned we could be saving the exact same taxpayer’s money and more by not spending anything whatsoever, as the HIV was their fault. Scrapping HIV treatment is therefore what they deserve and what we deserve, and we also won’t have to pay for these sex-encouraging pills to make the savings either which is good.” Insert some ranting ravings about condoms for teenagers here too.

    Because that’s what it comes to when you believe HIV isn’t worth it due to a patient’s “irresponsibility”. Isn’t the whole principle of the NHS that healthcare is for everyone up to and including health problems due to accidental and non-accidental self-harm? I’m sure riding a bike now and then will tally up to costly broken leg bills for the NHS rather frequently. And from this example I can safely draw three conclusions: it is fucking ridiculous to say that breaking a leg is your own fault, it is fucking ridiculous to say we should stop riding bikes to save the NHS money, and it is fucking ridiculous to say bike riders deliberately want to bring broken legs on themselves. I am certain we can all think of our own examples.

    We will not stop having sex, we should prevent HIV as best we can through the NHS, and there is no sane person who WANTS to get infected by HIV. Can you believe this needs spelling out?

    Then again the bitterness of where-has-my-country-gone always lingers. I can still recall with great revulsion how Peter Hitchens at the start of his book “The Abolition of Britain” began with a note about how his publisher would not let him print why HIV infected guys were responsible for bringing it on themselves. I wish the publisher had let him print it, as there was far more to gain from learning about such a resentful mentality. Anyway I’m digressing, the point is I don’t expect anything less from such a hopeless reactionary who believes self-harm should be alienated and/or criminal, and who believes everything from Grand Theft Auto 5 to Teletubbies is a threat to this dead empire.

    I’m sure you can all think of other examples of similar repressed puritan hatred.

  2. Fred

    I’ve got a gambling problem. I just can’t stop going to the bookies and playing the machines. I’m losing about £450 a month. I know I shouldn’t do it, I know it’s bad, but I just can’t help it. I like it too much. It just feels so good.

    Can I therefore ask all LFF readers not to give to charity anymore, but to club together to send me the £450 I need every month, to cover my gambling, Your doing that will prevent me going bankrupt. If I went bankrupt my wife and kids would leave me and the local authority would have to find them somewhere to live, which would end up costing society more than £450 a month. So if you could start sending me the money now, thanks.

  3. patrick newman

    Sure, Fred. Just publish the sort code and number of your account and any passwords and I’ll begin transferring the cash!

  4. patrick newman

    Sad old “Fred” illustrates that there is still a lot of anger about gay sex although there are many hetros who have HIV. Perhaps Fred is also angry about obese people and suffers from poverty rage!

  5. jameshogg

    “I know I shouldn’t do it, I know it’s bad, but I just can’t help it. I like it too much. It just feels so good.”

    These bloody mental health sectors dedicated to addictive behaviours are no different to leeches on our taxes man, I totally know what you mean. These heart disease wards just feed all these smokers’ habits man. I know what you mean. Fucking suicidal folk sucking all this money from psychiatrists! Can’t they just get a grip! I know what you mean.

    And what you mean is selfish puritanism.

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