The People vs the NHS: Biosexual citizenship and hope in stories of PrEP activism

Charlotte Jones , Ingrid Young, Nicola Boydell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Discourses of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) revel in its radical potential as a global HIV prevention technology, offering a promise of change for the broader landscape of HIV prevention. In 2018, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired The People vs The NHS: Who Gets the Drugs?, a documentary focused on the ‘battle’ to make PrEP available in England. In this article we explore how the BBC documentary positions PrEP, PrEP biosexual citizen-activists, as well as the wider role of the NHS in HIV prevention and the wellbeing of communities affected by HIV in the UK. We consider how biosexual citizenship (Epstein 2018) is configured through future imaginaries of hope, and the spectral histories of AIDS activism. We describe how The People crafts a story of PrEP activism in the context of an imagined gay community whose past, present, and hopeful future is entangled within the complexities and contractions of a state-funded health system. Here, PrEP functions as a ‘happiness pointer’ (Ahmed 2011), to orient imagined gay communities towards a hopeful future by demanding and accessing essential medicines and ensuring the absence of needless HIV transmissions. This biomedical success emerges from a shared traumatic past and firmly establishes the salvatory trajectory of PrEP and an imagined gay community who have continued to be affected by HIV. However, campaigns about the individual’s right to access PrEP construct the availability and consumption of PrEP as an end goal to their activism, where access to PrEP is understood as an individual’s right as a pharmaceutical consumer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-194
Issue number2
Early online date1 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Oct 2020


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