Tributes to HIV PrEP Pioneer Dr Mags Portman

Nicky Broyd

February 13, 2019

"Inspirational", "exceptional", "committed", and "passionate" are just some of the words being used by colleagues paying tribute to Dr Mags Portman, a pioneer of HIV PrEP treatment who has died at the age of 44.

   

Dr Mags Portman

The sexual health and HIV consultant worked at the Mortimer Market Centre in London, part of the Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Portman had been treated for mesothelioma for 2 years and died in a hospice in Leeds.

She leaves her husband Martin and children, Edward, and Freddie.

Career Dedicated to Sexual Health

Dr Portman completed her MBChB training in Glasgow having initially trained as a GP. She developed an interest in sexual health medicine, including work for the Steve Retson Project for gay and bisexual men or men who have sex with men.

On her blog she wrote how she loved working with what she called “the community” and "Little did I know that this would prove to be a cornerstone of my future work".

After working as a GP she moved to work at the Leeds GUM Clinic before deciding to retrain as a specialist in genitourinary medicine.

She helped promote National HIV Testing Week during her time as a registrar and helped to set up the sauna-based Armley Men’s Sexual Health Clinic in Leeds for men who have sex with men.

This, she said, helped develop her interest in HIV prevention.

PrEP Access

Dr Portman gained her CCT in 2014 and worked as a locum consultant at the Royal London and Homerton Hospitals. At Homerton she was responsible for the HIV antenatal clinic.

 

At the Royal London she worked on the pioneering Pragmatic Open-Label Randomised Trial of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis: the PROUD study.

This showed that the combination of tenofovir and emtricitabine (Truvada, Gilead) used as prophylaxis was highly effective in reducing the rate of HIV infection in real-world settings.

The medication is taken either daily or before and after sexual activity so that it can block HIV if it gets into the body.

She took up her substantive consultant post in 2015 as lead for GUM.

She worked on the national PrEP Guide, produced by iBase, but said she was "frustrated by the lack of PrEP implementation in the NHS".

She served on the BASHH/BHIVA PrEP guidelines writing committee and worked closely with the campaign groups iwantprepnow.co.uk and PrEPster.info.

Currently PrEP is not formally available across the UK on the NHS, but access programmes are in place, including NHS England's continuing PrEP Impact trial. However, trial place numbers are still limited.

She acknowledged that a lack of universal access to PrEP lead to many men risking buying it online, and offered monitoring services to those who took this route, saying: "We are aware that people at risk of HIV are accessing PrEP in different ways, including obtaining generic (non-brand) versions cheaply online. We cannot fully endorse this, because drugs bought online may not have gone through the same safety processes as generic drugs used for other conditions on the NHS but at Mortimer Market we believe that we have a responsibility towards people who are buying PrEP online, to keep them as safe as possible and are happy to see people who need PrEP monitoring."

Tributes

The sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust called her a PrEP pioneer and said on Twitter it was "deeply saddened by the passing of the brilliant Dr Mags Portman.

"We pledge to continue the fight for PrEP in her memory."

HIV Consultant at the Mortimer Market Centre, Dr Laura Waters, said in a statement: "Mags was an exceptional, talented, passionate, committed and hugely knowledgeable sexual health physician and powerful advocate for good sexual health. Her tireless work with the community and specialty organisations in campaigning for fair access to HIV prevention, particularly HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, was inspirational. Mags was a hugely popular member of the CNWL team – she touched so many with her kindness, humour and approachability and her loss will be felt by us, and many in the field of sexual health and HIV, for years to come."

Dr Simon Edwards, CNWL’s divisional medical director, said: "Mags was a truly inspirational doctor who was very much loved and admired by colleagues, patients and the wider community. She not only provided exceptional clinical care and leadership within our service but her energy, passion and motivation spilled over to effectively champion important public health initiatives and challenge stigma around HIV prevention. She will be sadly missed."

Owen Williams, President of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) said in a tribute: "As a powerful advocate for HIV prevention Mags’ tireless work and engagement with the community to push for access to PrEP was inspirational, reflected by Terrence Higgins Trust PrEP access fund being set up in her name & her appointment as a trustee of the Saving Lives charity. Her amazing work was recognised in two awards from BASHH: the Cathy Harman award in 2017 and a BASHH Lifetime Achievement award in 2018.

"Mags achieved so much in a tragically short time; she was a warrior with the biggest smile in Sexual Health so it’s with a smile we will remember her & be thankful we had the privilege to know her."

Editor's Note: If you have memories of Dr Portman you'd like to share please add them in the comments box and we'll try to include them here.

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