High-risk group to be given pill to prevent HIV infection

High-risk group to be given pill to prevent HIV infection
Health Minister Simon Harris

A HIV prevention strategy using a highly effective drug will be launched in the autumn.

Health Minister Simon Harris and Health Promotion Minister Catherine Byrne say they are committed to implementing the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) programme.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has advised Mr Harris that a national PrEP programme would be safe, effective, and cost-saving.

Hiqa published a health technology assessment recommending the PrEP programme for people at substantial risk of acquiring HIV by sexual transmission.

The authority’s director of health technology assessment and deputy chief executive, Dr Máirín Ryan, said HIV remained 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,” said Dr Ryan.

Mr Harris said they wanted to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland, and increasing the availability of PrEP would help them to do that.

“This report not only confirms that PrEP can help to prevent HIV amongst those who are high risk, but it also shows how a PrEP programme could save money,” he said.

PrEP is the most recent development in HIV prevention and involves people who are HIV negative taking a daily pill to help prevent infection.

However, it is important that people taking part in a PrEP programme receive advice on taking the medication appropriately and undergo frequent HIV testing.

Dr Ryan said there would need to be “a significant investment” in public sexual health services for a national PrEP programme to ensure a safe, sustainable, and equitable service.

“The primary barriers to introducing a PrEP programme in public STI clinics in Ireland relate to staffing and infrastructural issues,” she pointed out.

A PrEP programme will cost €1.5m in the first year and €5.4m over five years. Hiqa estimated that a “break even” point would be reached by year 14.

Meanwhile, HIV Ireland has welcomed the Government’s commitment to join the international Fast-Track Cities initiative to reduce HIV infections.

Additional funding of €450,000 will be spent on community-based HIV testing and outreach services as well as public campaigns on stigma reduction and promotion of the new PrEP programme.

HIV Ireland executive director, Niall Mulligan, said HIV is a major health issue in Ireland with a provisional figure of 528 new cases reported last year.

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