Doctors frequently advise patients not to buy generic drugs from the Internet. However, gay men in London have been defying this advice for the last couple of years, and it is making an incredible difference. New HIV infection rates in the capital have slumped by an impressive 40 percent, as gay men have turned to the Internet to buy generic versions of the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada.
New figures have shown the dramatic difference that the drug has made across four sexual health clinics in London, according to New Scientist. Researchers suspect that the cause behind the massive drop in new infections is down to people turning to the Internet in order to purchase generic versions of the medicine, rather than paying the full price for the official stuff.
“We need to be very cautious at this stage, but I can’t see what else it can be,” explains Will Nutland at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to New Scientist. “Something extraordinary has happened in the last 12 months because of a bunch of DIY activists working off our kitchen tables.”
HIV-negative men need to take the drug once a day in order to cut their risk of infection. Buying the official licensed brand under the name Truvada can cost £400 per month, but price cut versions in labs in places like India or Singapore can bring this cost down to between £40 and £50 per month, making it much more affordable.
The legality of this is questionable, but with the drugs bought online and mailed through several countries before arriving at people's doors, tracking the practice and stopping it can be difficult. Obviously, there are safety fears and many doctors recommend against it, but to date no pills procured this way have been found to be fake.
Truvada stormed into the mainstream scene of HIV prevention over the last few years when initial studies found it can dramatically cut the rate of new infections, although there are a few questions as to the robustness of some of the trials.
It gained further visibility in the UK when the National Health Service went to court to try and prevent it from being required for them to provide the drug to gay men who are most at risk of contracting HIV, a case which they eventually lost.
How this result with further impact the rates are yet to be seen, but with the figure dropping by 40 percent in 2015 compared to the year before, the medicine being available on the NHS could have even more impressive results.
[H/T: New Scientist]