The history of HIV and the AIDS epidemic began in confusion, followed by illness, fear and death as the world faced an unknown virus. By 1999, AIDS was the fourth biggest cause of death worldwide and number one killer in Africa.
Scientific advances, such as the development of antiretroviral drugs, have enabled people to live long and healthy lives with HIV. Now a new treatment that is highly effective at preventing HIV in people at substantial risk is likely to become available in Ireland. Hiqa’s draft PrEP technology assessment is urging the Government to proceed with a publicly funded programme that will save lives.
The reality remains that, without treatment, anyone with HIV will develop AIDS and most likely die within three years. The PreP programme is a crucial intervention to adopt in order to reverse the current upward trend in new HIV diagnoses. With 10 people being newly diagnosed with HIV in Ireland every week, any delay in introducing this programme will have a devastating impact on many people’s lives, according to Niall Mulligan, executive director of HIV Ireland.
But it cannot be left to the health service to save lives. Personal responsibility matters and, while PreP will help, it is essential that those most at risk — males who have sex with males — safeguard themselves by taking other precautions.
Safe sex is still the best way to prevent all forms of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.