A new HIV prevention programme is set to begin next month, the Department of Health has confirmed.
The pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) programme is aimed at people who are considered to be at substantial risk of sexually acquired HIV
PrEP is the most recent development in the field of HIV prevention, involving the pre-emptive use of oral antiretroviral therapy in HIV negative people in order to prevent infection.
HIV PrEP is a combination tablet containing two drugs - tenofivir and emtricitabine. It is taken by HIV negative people before having sex and after sex, to prevent HIV.
A PrEP programme provides PrEP as part of a holistic service that sees participants frequently monitored for adherence and side-effects. It also includes testing for HIV and other STIs, and counselling and advice on safer sex practices.
The programme is set to begin on November 4 in a number of STI clinics nationwide. This is expected to be expanded next year, after €5.4 million was made available as part of Budget 2020.
"The introduction of a PrEP programme here will reduce the number of people who contract HIV in future. It's great that we are starting the PrEP programme this year as promised, with funding now in place for a wider programme next year.
"PrEP is just one element of our response to reducing HIV rates. We've also prioritised increasing awareness and HIV testing. With this combined approach, we reach the people we need to reach and bring down HIV rates in Ireland," commented the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.
The new programme has been welcomed by Dr Fiona Lyons, a consultant in genitourinary and HIV medicine at St James's Hospital in Dublin.
"I welcome the imminent availability of PrEP medication, without charge, to those who are at substantial risk of acquiring HIV through sexual contact. PrEP is an important part of the HIV prevention jigsaw puzzle that, together with other HIV prevention interventions, should reduce the number of new HIV infections in Ireland," she said.
The decision to implement a PrEP programme in Ireland was informed by a health technology assessment, which was carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) earlier this year.
HIQA carried out the assessment to determine whether the introduction of such a programme in Ireland would be beneficial. It found that the successful implementation of a national PrEP programme would be safe, effective and cost-saving.
As part of the new programme, those who attend an approved service and are found to be at substantial risk for HIV, and meet the clinical eligibility criteria, will be eligible for PrEP free of charge, dispensed through community pharmacies.
Information for people who think they may be at risk from HIV and are considering taking PrEP is available at sexualwellbeing.ie/prep.
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