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PrEP programme to reduce HIV rates to be rolled out fully in 2020

To date, PrEP has only been available to buy in Ireland on prescription at a price of over €400 a month.

Image: Shutterstock/nito

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said the government will fully roll-out a public access programme for Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), with the aim of reducing new HIV infections in Ireland.

The 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.

To date, PrEP has only been available to buy in Ireland on prescription at a price of over €400 a month for the brand-name medication, and around €100 for the generic medication.

PrEP has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection through sex, particularly for those deemed at risk, such as gay and bisexual men, and transgender women, but also for heterosexual men and women.

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.

Harris said earlier this year that he planned to roll out the programme following formal advice from the Health Information and Quality Authority that such a programme would be safe, effective and cost saving.

He confirmed that funding had been allocated to the programme in his Department’s budget announcement today. 

“To achieve a Healthy Ireland, it is vital that we invest in prevention and support people to enjoy good physical, mental, and sexual health,” Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne said. 

I am therefore very pleased that we are funding a full roll-out of a HIV PrEP programme in 2020. Reducing the numbers of HIV diagnoses is a key priority under our Sexual Health Strategy.

Access

A recent Irish study, of more than 2,000 gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (MSM), found that 7% of respondents were living with HIV, and of these the vast majority engaged were on treatment (94%) and had an undetectable viral load (97%).

The survey also found that there is a higher than average usage and awareness of PrEP  in Ireland compared to the European average. 

Despite a greater awareness of PrEP, only 4% of those surveyed confirmed they were using PrEP. But 49% of those surveyed also said there were likely to use PrEP if it was available and affordable.

Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland said the findings of that survey suggests that today’s public access programme will meet an unmet demand.

The introduction of a PrEP programme represents a landmark decision in reducing new HIV infections in Ireland, by making the drug more available and affordable.

“Up to this point, access to PrEP for Irish patients has been restricted and based on their capacity to pay. Today’s announcement will hopefully end that inequality. Access to PrEP will now be based on need rather than financial means,” Teva’s Generics Director Paul Neill said. 

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Adam Daly

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