The HSE is investigating whether it can waive the emergency department fee that is required to access post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
PEP is a cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs that can prevent HIV from being acquired if taken within 72 hours (3 days) of a potential exposure to the virus.
PEP is most effective if taken earlier within that 72 hour window period, which makes accessing the medication in a timely manner extremely important.
Currently, PEP is available in a number of locations throughout the country, including primary care facilities and sexual health clinics like the GMHS. However, these clinics are only open at specific times during the week.
PEP is also available through hospital emergency departments, which facilitates the medication being accessed 24/7, albeit with one caveat: cost.
Under current arrangements, those who access PEP through an emergency department in a hospital must pay a €100 fee before they can be seen and get access to the time-sensitive medication.
Such a fee can be cost prohibitive, having the potential to dissuade people from attending an emergency department in the event of a potential exposure to HIV and leave those who may struggle to come up with the money at risk.
Now the HSE is verifying if it is legal for it to lift the €100 fee, which would further remove barriers to accessing the medication and ensure that people who may not be able to afford the fee can still access PEP within the window period.
Sexual health advocates had called on the HSE to remove this barrier to accessing PEP, reports The Times UK.
News of the HSE’s investigation comes shortly after Gilead Sciences lost court proceedings which sought to block the sale of generic Truvada in Ireland.
Truvada is used for PEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and is also used to treat HIV-positive people.
A month’s supply of Gilead’s Truvada costs around €400 per month when sourced privately, with Ireland spending €24 million per annum on the drug.
With the sale of generic Truvada imminent, the offerings from Gilead competitors Mylan and Teva could offer a saving of as much as 60%, saving the HSE millions.
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