Prime Time’s ‘The End of HIV?’ explores what access to PrEP in Ireland could mean for gay and bi men, the good and the bad
“A diagnoses of HIV/AIDS was a virtual death sentence in the 1980s,” Eithne O’Brien says, “as millions of people around the world succumbed to this deadly virus.”
“But now a new drug has been developed that can stop the disease in its tracks. So could this be the end of HIV? And if so, should we provide the drug to healthy people who put themselves at risk because of their sexual behaviour?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an intervention that has such a potential to really significantly impact on the epidemic,” says Dr Paddy Mallon, an Infectious Disease Consultant in the Mater Hospital.
“I think PrEP is going to offer us the most amazing potential to remove the fear that many of us have lived with around having sex for most of our active sex lives,” says Will Nutland, a public health doctor who is working to make PrEP available on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS)
“While I’d love to see PrEP available to as many people taking risks as possible one has to ask the question: ‘Does society pay for an individual’s party,'” asks Genito Urinary Physician Dr Derek Freedman.
The show reiterated the statistics that HIV activist and PrEP proponent Robbie Lawlor raised at the first GCN Town Hall Talks.
The statistics show that there were 485 HIV diagnoses in Ireland in 2015, up 30% from the previous year, and 50% of diagnoses were among men who have sex with men (MSM).
However, PrEP, also known as the drug Truvada, is highly effective at preventing someone from contracting HIV.
“While there is concern about rising HIV rates, particularly among gay men, the good news is that there is already a drug that is licensed that can prevent someone from contracting the infection,” O’Brien explains.
“Truvada, or PrEP as it has been known, has been used to treat HIV for many years. Now the drug can be taken by healthy people to protect them from HIV and the results are very exciting.”
Dr Mallon details two PrEP studies which were conducted in Europe that show promising levels of protection from HIV.
“In both studies,” Dr Mallon says, “use of Truvada as PrEP in combination with very effective monitoring and counselling resulted in an 85% reduction in HIV rates within the population that got access to the treatment.”
“That level of reduction with one type of intervention is frankly phenomenal.”
In the UK, PrEP is already available to purchase online and the 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic provides support and monitoring for MSM who have purchased the drug.
Statistics released from this clinic reveal a massive 42% drop in HIV diagnoses.
PrEP In Ireland
O’Brien explains that in Ireland, Truvada is not reimbursed by the government. This means that those looking to take the drug must pay the full price of €700 per month.
Act Up Dublin’s graffiti campaign for PrEP demands that the HSE make Truvada available, “because unlike the UK, it is illegal to buy the drug online.”
“Medics say it would be much more cost effective to spend money on prevention, rather than on treatment of HIV.”
However, O’Brien highlights the fear that making PrEP available might encourage gay men to engage in risky sexual behaviour and potentially catch other STIs.
Gay Switchboard Director Adam Shanley discusses the prevalence of condomless sex for “many Irish people, regardless of their sexuality.”
“Condomless sex is a reality for many Irish people, regardless of their sexuality,” Shanley says.
“So I think to be able to have something like that as an addition [would be good] – I mean you’re going to have sexual health advocates and professionals alike that will consistently encourage the use of condoms regardless of access to PrEP.”
“In the middle of a HIV crisis where day in day out there are more and more gay and bisexual men contracting HIV when something is out there that we can use to stop that, then there is a huge sense of urgency in making that happen.”
“The HSE told Prime Time that they have set up a PrEP working group to make recommendations in relation to PrEP in Ireland,” O’Brien recounts.
‘The End of HIV?’ is available to watch on RTE Player in full until Thursday 9 March 2o17.
Want to see PrEP made available in Ireland by the HSE? Share this article and tag Minister for Health Simon Harris (@SimonHarrisTD on Twitter) and the HSE (@HSELive).
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