The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Dr. Mags Portman, PrEP Pioneer Who Helped Thousands, Dies at 44

Dr. Mags Portman

Dr. Mags Portman — a pioneering figure in the fight against HIV — died Wednesday at age 44, reports BuzzFeed News. The cause of death was mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that affected the lining of her lungs.

Portman was a major player in the fight to bring pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to the United Kingdom. In 2014, she began work as an HIV consultant at the Royal London Hospital, whose revolutionary PROUD study showed that daily dosage of the drug Truvada, when used as PrEP, was effective in preventing HIV infection in gay and bi men.

The following year, Portman joined Mortimer Market Centre, a major health clinic in London. There the HIV consultant became a major advocate for PrEP, educating both activists and caregivers about its lifesaving potential. 

Her work is credited with helping prevent thousands of HIV infections. Spurred by a query from Portman, the U.K.’s General Medical Council green-lit health care providers to recommend PrEP to at-risk patients — even though the treatment had not been officially sanctioned by National Health Service England at the time.

While efforts to approve PrEP stalled in NHS, Portman worked to connect doctors and patients to IWantPrEPNow, an online resource launched by activist Greg Wells that provided PrEP education and access to affordable, generic forms of the medication.

There was a dramatic decrease in the number of HIV infections in the U.K. from 2015 to 2017, in part thanks to the work of advocates like Portman. She appeared as a major figure in the BBC documentary The People vs the NHS: Who Gets the Drugs?, about the fight to bring PrEP to the public.

AIDS organizations and other health care groups took to Twitter to memorialize Portman's impact and mourn her passing.

Portman died Wednesday morning in hospice care in her hometown of Leeds, England. She is survived by her husband and two children.

Tags: People, HIV

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