HSE to begin PrEP programme to prevent HIV this year

HSE to begin PrEP programme to prevent HIV this year

A PrEP HIV prevention programme will be rolled out for 2019.

The Government made the announcement today, with Minister for Health Simon Harris saying sexual health is his top priority.

Prep- or pre-exposure prophylaxis is a form of HIV prevention where anti-retroviral medication is taken by at-risk individuals.

The programme, which was recommended by Health Information and Quality Authority, is estimated to cost €1.5m in the first year, and €5.4m over the course of five years,

However, it is estimated that at least 173 new cases of HIV will be averted because of the treatment. HIQA said the programme will cost less than the treatment of HIV.

While licensed, it is not reimbursed through the Primary Care Reimbursement Service - meaning those with a prescription for PrEP must pay out-of-pocket.

PrEP is available in at least 49 countries worldwide with 11 countries providing PrEP through national programmes - including Belgium, France, Norway, Portugal and Scotland.

The Health Minister said: “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.

“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 Byrne, and we want to deliver a world-class PrEP programme.”

Minister of State Catherine Byrne said: "The publication of this HIQA report is a significant step in the introduction of a PrEP programme in Ireland in 2019.

"As the report notes, many of the people who would stand to benefit from a PrEP programme are from vulnerable or stigmatised groups in our society, so it is important that we continue to work to reach out and encourage more people to get tested and avail of the treatments and supports available.”

HIQA's director of health technology assessment, Dr Máirín Ryan, said: "HIV infection remains a significant public health concern.

"There were 492 HIV diagnoses in Ireland in 2017. Just over half of all notifications were in men who have sex with men."

"From reviewing the evidence, HIQA has found that PrEP is safe and highly effective at preventing HIV in people at substantial risk.

"Additionally, implementing a PrEP programme would be considered cost saving compared with standard care."

Dr Ryan added: "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."

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