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PrEP programme to reduce HIV rates to be rolled out later this year

Rapid testing will be rolled out in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.

A funding boost of €450,000 will be announced today.
A funding boost of €450,000 will be announced today.
Image: Shutterstock/Jes2u.photo

Updated Jun 14th 2019, 10:36 AM

THE PrEP HIV prevention programme will be implemented in 2019, Health Minister Simon Harris said today. 

The pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment is the most recent development in the field of HIV prevention, and sees patients pre-emptively take a fixed dose of oral medication.

As part of a PrEP programme, service-users are also monitored for side effects, tested for HIV and other STIs, and given counselling and advice on safer sex practices.

Health Minister Simon Harris said following the formal advice from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) that such a programme would be safe, effective and cost saving, he plans to roll it out this year. 

In April, HIQA said the introduction of a PrEP programme to reduce HIV rates in Ireland would be cheaper than current care.

“We want to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland. Increasing the availability of PrEP will help us to do so. This report not only confirms that PrEP can help to prevent HIV amongst those who are high risk, it also shows how a PrEP programme could save money,” said Harris.

“My Department and the HSE will fully consider the advice from the HIQA report as we continue to plan for implementation of a programme later this year. I note HIQA’s advice in the report on the need to invest in our sexual health services so we can deliver a high quality, holistic programme. Sexual health is a priority focus for me and Minister Catherine Byrne, and we want to deliver a world-class PrEP programme,” he added. 

HIV a significant public concern

HIQA’s Director of Health Technology Assessment and Deputy Chief Executive, Dr Máirín Ryan, said HIV infection remains a significant public health concern.

“There were 492 diagnoses of HIV notified in Ireland in 2017. Just over half of all notifications were in men who have sex with men,” he said. 

Ryan added that the primary barriers to introducing a PrEP programme in public STI clinics in Ireland relate to staffing and infrastructural issues.

“A significant investment in STI services is required for a national PrEP programme to ensure a safe, sustainable and equitable service,” he said. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the government wants to make it a lot more easy for people to find out their sexual health status. 

A funding boost of €450,000 has been announced today which will be used to expand the  community HIV testing programme to incorporate other at-risk populations, such as migrants.  

Across the four partners in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick being funded for rapid community HIV testing for at risk populations, the target is to conduct 3,250 tests in 2019.  

HIV diagnoses reached a record high last year, with 531 cases in 2018. 

According to HSE data, the number is an 8% increase from figures in 2017 and demonstrates an upward trend in diagnoses.

STIs (sexually transmitted infections) diagnoses also rose last year, with chlamydia infections increasing by an extra 537 diagnoses from 2017 figures, and gonorrhoea increasing by 158. 

There was also an increase in diagnoses of genital herpes, syphilis and lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV). 

Testing 

The additional HSE funding will be specifically used for developments such as community-based HIV testing and outreach services, as well as public campaigns on stigma reduction and promotion of the new PrEP programme later this year.

“The Government wants to reduce the number of people who contract HIV. So, we want to make it easier for people to get tested and know their status, as people who know their status get treated and are far less likely to pass it on,” said the Taoiseach. 

He said he is pleased that Ireland is joining forces with other cities and partners around the world under a global initiative to fight HIV, stating that collaborating will help  identify and share best practice.

“When we announced last year that we would be bringing in a PrEP programme, advocacy and LGBTI+ groups said it needed to be coupled with increased testing in the community.

“We’ve listened to that feedback. Under the HIV Fast Track Cities initiative we will further expand community HIV testing and raise awareness about the benefits of treatment. We’re backing this up with real money; €450,000 for testing in Galway, Cork, Limerick and Dublin and a national awareness programme. By working at local level we can get to the people we need to reach and bring down HIV rates across Ireland,” said Varadkar. 

 “Sexual health is one of our key priorities under Healthy Ireland and reducing the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland is a priority focus for me as Minister for Health,” said Simon Harris. 

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