HIV Ireland praise new PrEP programme rollout but add there is still work to be done

The rollout of a nationwide PrEP programme has been praised as a ‘gamechanger’ by HIV Ireland however the group warns it is not a solution to reducing the spread of HIV. 

Truvada, a PrEP treatment, being held. HIV Ireland praises new programme but warns it may not help reduce spread of HIV.

A PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis ) treatment programme will come into effect from 4th November, initially provided to a number of STI clinics with a planned further expansion next year. Executive director of HIV Ireland, Stephen O’Hare, said in a press release, “The introduction of a free PrEP programme is a significant ‘gamechanger’ for at-risk communities but not a panacea in reducing the spread of HIV.”

Earlier this year, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) advised the Minister for Health, Simon Harris that a successful implementation of a PrEP programme would be “safe, effective and cost-saving”. O’Hare commented on phase one of the rollout as evidence that the Irish Government has “honoured its commitment to enhancing preventive measures to combat the spread of HIV.”

As part of the new PrEP programme, service-users will monitor for side effects, test for HIV and other STIs, and provide counselling and advice on safer sex. O’Hare said, “increased investment in a range of existing and innovative measures is further required if we are to make meaningful progress in reversing the upward trend of new infections and set Ireland on course towards significant reduction in sexually transmitted HIV.”

O’Hare further stated, “Such measures, as highlighted by HIV Ireland and partner organisations throughout the country, must include greater investment in both health and community-based testing services which are currently bursting at the seams. Similarly, increased public awareness of HIV and related stigma, and more resources for counselling and community support services are urgently required to meet demand.”

To successfully implement a nationwide programme, €5.4 million in the 2020 budget has been assigned for funding. Adam Leavitt from ACT UP Dublin details what the new programme means, “PrEP users who meet the eligibility criteria and have a prescription from an approved PrEP service will be able to get their medication for free from community pharmacies.”

Irish pharmacy group Meagher’s have announced they will intensify patient supports with specialist training for its staff across its network of pharmacies. Oonagh O’Hagan, MD of the Meagher’s Pharmacy Group, shared; “Meagher’s, with partners like Mylan (the manufacturer of PrEP), is deeply committed to safeguarding those most at risk of HIV get the pre-emotive intervention they need.  This really is a game changer.”

David Delaney of Mylan explained, “We know that developing vital drugs doesn’t matter if people can’t access them, so it is vitally important to make sure everyone in Ireland knows that these drugs are freely available from the HSE.”

As the programme comes into effect, it is a groundbreaking moment for sexual health awareness in Ireland. However, numerous advocacy groups have acknowledged that this is only the first step in a much longer process.

For more information on the new PrEP programme, visit HSE’s PrEP information page to see where to get PrEP and how to safely use it.

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