Dr. Mags Portman, HIV Prevention Pioneer, Dies from Mesothelioma at 44

Dr. Mags Portman

Dr. Mags Portman, a British trailblazer in the fight to prevent and control HIV, died Wednesday after a two-year battle with mesothelioma.

She was 44.

Portman was lauded for triggering a significant reduction in HIV diagnoses throughout the United Kingdom by her work as a researcher, clinician and outspoken advocate.

She earned international acclaim for her work as an HIV consultant at London’s Mortimer Market Centre, a progressive sexual health clinic that made pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) a reality in the U.K.

Portman played a key role in the 2014 study at The Royal London Hospital that proved the efficacy of the drug Truvada, which became part of PrEP and the fight against HIV in England.

She was a leader in educating activists and caregivers about the lifesaving potential of PrEP.

When the National Health Service delayed its approval of Truvada, Portman worked tirelessly in connecting patients and doctors to online resources and provide access to generic and affordable forms of the medication.

“We’re heartbroken at the loss of Dr. Mags Portman, who was a hero and an inspiration to the HIV/AIDS advocacy community,” wrote the Elton John AIDS Foundation on the charity’s Twitter account. “Her legacy — proving the efficacy of PrEP and making it so much more accessible internationally — continues in the lives she helped save.”

Mesothelioma UK, a national charity group, shared their condolences on Twitter.

Chronicled Mesothelioma Battle in a Blog

Portman was diagnosed in January 2017 with pleural mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos.

Portman chronicled much of her ensuing battle with mesothelioma in an blog entitled “Not Doing Things By Half,” which she started a month after her diagnosis.

“I decided on the blog title after my mum reflected, ‘Well, ever since you were a baby, you never did anything by half,’” she wrote initially. “And I guess she is right. Sadly, it looks like having cancer is similar. I’m not doing it by half! Mesothelioma is a challenging cancer to say the least, and this will be my story.”

Through the next two years, she wrote about a variety of topics, including her family and travels, her continued work and treatment.

She wrote about her first-line treatment with Alimta (pemetrexed) chemotherapy and her second-line treatment with Navelbine (vinorelbine).

Portman wrote about her inclusion in a clinical trial and described her experience using Keytruda (pembrolizumab), an immunotherapy drug that has been only marginally successful in fighting mesothelioma.

She tried natural therapies such as Madagascar Periwinkle, a plant-based alternative medicine. Portman consulted several times with mesothelioma specialist Dr. Dean Fennell, chairman of thoracic oncology at the University of Leicester who is opening the first molecularly stratified study for mesothelioma.

Unfortunately, very little worked well for long.

Portman died at a hospice facility in her hometown of Leeds. Her last blog post was in October.

“The HIV community is heartbroken by our shared loss of Mags,” said Deborah Gold, CEO of the National AIDS Trust. “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.”

Asbestos-Related Diseases Still an Issue in UK

Mesothelioma continues to be a problem in the U.K., despite a ban on all uses of asbestos and asbestos-containing products since 1999.

The National Health Service estimates 2,700 people still are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, giving it one of the highest incidence rates, per capita, in the world.

The continued problem often stems from the long-before use of asbestos that still is present in older construction throughout the country, including homes, schools and hospitals.

A recent study, prompted by a freedom of information request by the British Broadcasting Corporation, found nine out of every 10 hospitals in the U.K. have asbestos somewhere in the building.

Mesothelioma UK has 24 nurse specialists throughout the country rotating through the hospitals. They provide expertise in the care and support of mesothelioma patients.

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