PrEP programme will be introduced in Ireland in November

As part of budget 2020, the Department of Health will invest funding in the development of a national public access PrEP programme.

ACT UP Dublin demonstrating for PrEP programme
Image: Hazel Coonagh

Update: Taoiseach and Ministers for Health have announced that the HIV PrEP programme saying it “will initially be provided in a number of STI clinics from November and will expand in 2020 following the announcement of funding of €5.4 million for full roll-out next year in Budget 2020.” Read full press statment here and see www.sexualwellbeing.ie for more information.

The Department for Health will dedicate funding to fully roll-out a public access programme for Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in 2020. Minister for Health Promotion & the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne TD said, “To achieve a Healthy Ireland, it is vital that we invest in prevention and support people to enjoy good physical, mental, and sexual health.”

In line with the PrEP programme, service-users will also monitor for side effects, test for HIV and other STIs, as well as give counselling and advice on safer sex. Across the health sector, there will be widespread development to improve HIV prevention. 

ACT UP released a statement following the announcement of the PrEP programme, “We’re glad to see that Govt. plans to fund rollout of a national PrEP programme for Ireland in 2020. With HIV diagnoses at historic highs it’s critical that PrEP be widely available & easy to access. We will be watching progress closely!”

The group further stated, “To be clear: Government has committed to start PrEP roll-out *this year* & we expect that to begin soon. However serious & sustained investment to improve & expand Ireland’s sexual health services is critical to the long-term success of this programme.”

As highlighted by ACT UP, this is a significant moment for Irish healthcare, yet there is still work required in the area of HIV in terms of stigma and education.

Will St. Leger took to Twitter to react to the news, “Very pleased to see the Irish Govt finally roll out #PrEP programme in Ireland. In 2016, @ActUpDublin called for this drug to be made available for free to anyone who needs. More funding in our public Sexual Health Services MUST be put in place for prog to have impact.”

ACT UP has persistently fought against the Government’s complacency and the corporate greed involved in developing accessible PrEP, carrying banners declaring ‘HIV is a political crisis.’ Though the 2020 PrEP programme is an important first step, U=U will continue to fight against the stigma surrounding HIV. 

Early in 2019, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) advised Minister for Health Simon Harris that a successful implementation of a PrEP programme in Ireland would be “safe, effective and cost-saving”.

The minister spoke in light of the comments, stating: “We want to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland. Increasing the availability of PrEP will help us to do so. 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.”

An example of the benefits of a nationwide programme can be seen in the United Kingdoms, which has one of the most extensive PrEP programmes in Europe regarding people who have started taking the treatment. Co-founder of Prepster, Dr Will Nutland said in a video titled PrEP success in London, “If 25 or 30 years ago, we had known that there was a pill that you could take every single day, that would stop the decimation of the communities we saw decimated, we would have been dancing in the streets.”

Dr Will Nutland further stated, “PrEP is one of the most effective and cost-effective HIV prevention tools. We need to see PrEP made available as cheaply as possible to as many people as possible.”

With the programme being introduced in Ireland as part of budget 2020, this will be a crucial moment in the treatment and understanding of HIV in Ireland. PrEP manufacturer Teva said in a statement, “Up to this point, access to PrEP for Irish patients has been restricted and based on their capacity to pay. Today’s announcement will hopefully end that inequality. Access to PrEP will now be based on need rather than financial means. “

There are still some concerns surrounding the programme. As one Twitter user said, “The programme is due to start in the next few weeks, but will be limited by the lack of capacity in existing sexual health services. Hopefully, the 2020 funding reflects a genuine intention to provide the resources needed to get services to where they should be.” 

With the programme moving forward, it is a cause of celebration as years of campaigning is rewarded while also revealing where further development is needed.

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