Dr. Mags Portman, a leading pioneer of PrEP in the United Kingdom and Europe, passed away this week at 44 years old after a battle with cancer. Dr. Portman was a leading advocate for PrEP before the NHS made the life-saving medication readily available and worked to increase access for PrEP, preventing thousands from becoming HIV positive.
Dr. Portman dedicated her life’s work to expanding access to PrEP, training doctors about the lifesaving medication and connecting PrEP activists with doctors. At the Royal London Hospital, Dr. Portman was part of the team that released the PROUD study that outline PrEP’s efficacy, enabling doctors to recommend the medication for patients before the NHS made the medication available.
Dr. Portman stated that before PrEP was widely available, “it was very, very difficult and frustrating as a clinician to know that this HIV prevention tool was out there but we couldn’t access it, we couldn’t prescribe it. We were seeing people who we knew were at risk and them coming back with HIV.”
In 2015, Dr. Portman approached the General Medical Council to inquire if doctors can suggest treatments for patients that are not available through the NHS, such as PrEP. The council responded that doctors “must” recommend these treatments. This revelation allowed Dr. Portman to give permission to other doctors and specialists to share medically accurate, but not NHS approved, advice to patients requesting more information on PrEP. Doctors began sharing with their patients that PrEP does prevent HIV, it is almost 100% effective, it is safe, and it is tested; information not previously available or widely shared.
Because of Dr. Portman, access to PrEP and traffic to IWantPrEPNow, the website to buy PrEP, drastically increased. By 2017, the number of HIV infections had decreased by 30%. Dr. Portman was awarded the Outstanding Contribution award from the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV in 2018. The NHS finally approved PrEP in 2017, after a lengthy legal battle.
Debroah Gold, CEO of the National Aids Trust, stated that “during a time when PrEP was unavailable via the NHS, Mags stepped forward and took a lead in ensuring that those buying PrEP online had access to the advice, medical testing and support they needed from their clinicians. She worked to ensure that those at risk could be confident in the safety of their supply of PrEP. Through her actions, countless people who otherwise would have, do not have HIV.”
Media Resources: Buzzfeed News 2/12/19