Homeless Man's Mission to Prevent HIV Saves Thousands

Record-breaking decrease in England's stats once Greg Owen got involved
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 1, 2017 8:10 PM CST
Homeless Man's Mission to Prevent HIV Saves Thousands
This May 10, 2012, file photo, shows Truvada pills.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Last year in England, the number of gay men diagnosed with HIV was slashed by a third from the previous year. The drop was even more drastic in London, with a 40% decrease, and, as Patrick Strudwick reveals for BuzzFeed, that major shift was driven by a homeless ex-sex worker named Greg Owen. Strudwick points out that Owen's astonishing work behind the scenes is reminiscent of Ron Woodroof, the drug-smuggling HIV patient portrayed in Dallas Buyers Club—except where Woodroof's real-life narrative was an "outrageous story that ended in tragedy … Owen's is a tragic story that ends in outrageous success," with thousands spared from the illness because of his efforts. Those efforts revolve around a drug called Truvada, taken as part of a preventive regimen called pre-exposure prophylaxis in which non-infected users take a pill every day to keep the virus at bay.

A Truvada Rx cost around $600 a month in August 2015, when Owen posted on Facebook that he wanted to do the PrEP regimen. A pal gave him some extra pills—but then he discovered he was HIV-positive. He updated his previous post in what Strudwick calls the "single act ... that would change everything." People started bombarding him with questions about PrEP and he set up an informational website to stop "these f---ing bastards asking me about [it]." I Want PrEP Now, which launched in October 2015, eventually evolved to also help users buy cheaper, effective generic versions of Truvada from overseas. Owen's underground movement became a monster one, and he ended up quitting his two jobs to lobby the UK's NHS to commission the drug—a push that became reality in December. His incredible story at BuzzFeed. (A new tool in the fight against HIV?)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.