Simon Harris to launch HIV prevention stategy later this year

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

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, and Minister for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne, have said they are committed to implementing the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) programme.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has advised Minister 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 sexually acquiring HIV.

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

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