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Irish government to combat HIV with new national PrEP programme

Patrick Kelleher April 23, 2019
Irish government to combat HIV with new national PrEP programme

Ireland is set to introduce a new national PrEP programme (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

The Irish government has confirmed today that they will be implementing a new national PrEP programme this year.

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and the drug’s brand name is Truvada. It can drastically reduce the risk of being infected with HIV if taken daily.

The government said it would be introducing a PrEP programme today after Ireland’s Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) released a draft report which found that PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV.

The report found that a national programme would provide greater access to the drug and could also ultimately be cost-saving.

Gay and bisexual men in Ireland must currently pay for PrEP out of their own pockets

The lengthy draft report said that PrEP should be made available as part of an overall HIV prevention package “with an overarching aim of reaching zero HIV transmissions.”

It also noted that there were 492 diagnoses of HIV in Ireland in 2017, with men who have sex with men (MSM) making up half of that number.

“We want to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland. Increasing the availability of PrEP will help us to do so.”

– Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

The drug is currently not available on Ireland’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service, which means that gay and bisexual men who are prescribed it must pay for it themselves. The report also said there was evidence that gay and bisexual men were ordering it online to save money.

It said that this situation could create “inequity” as the drug is only available to those who can afford to pay for it. Therefore, the draft report suggested that PrEP should be offered “free of charge” as a part of the new national programme.

Irish government to combat HIV with new national PrEP programme
Ireland’s gay Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed the report (Charles McQuillan/Getty)

Ireland’s gay Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed the draft report

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar—who is openly gay—welcomed the publication of the draft report and said the government is committed to introducing an effective national programme to reduce HIV diagnoses.

“We want to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland. Increasing the availability of PrEP will help us to do so,” Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.

“This report not only confirms that PrEP can help to prevent HIV amongst those who are high risk, it also shows how a PrEP programme could save money.

“The introduction of a PrEP programme, coupled with increased testing and greater awareness will help us to reduce the number of people contracting HIV.”

Meanwhile, Ireland’s health minister Simon Harris said one of his priorities is to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses.

“The introduction of a PrEP programme will make a significant contribution to that aim.”

The government is yet to release concrete plans for the introduction of the programme. The report must first undergo a public consultation process, which will lead to the publication of the final report.

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