Call for Northern Ireland to get HIV prevention drug as infection rates rise
Northern Ireland risks falling behind in the fight against HIV if the infection prevention drug PrEP is not rolled out in the region, a charity has warned.
Positive Life called for the introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) after the NHS in England announced that the drug would be offered to 10,000 people in a three-year trial.
The pill, which is taken before sex, has been shown to reduce the risk of infection in high-risk individuals by around 86%.
Positive Life chief executive Jacquie Richardson said the move in England represented a "pivotal moment".
"There is still some way to go, but we must welcome the fact that this development is taking place," she said.
Ms Richardson noted recent statistics which indicated that HIV infection rates in Northern Ireland were on the rise, with 100 people diagnosed in 2015.
"We want to make sure that everything that can be done to support those in need, or ensure those at most risk, have opportunities to prevent themselves from contracting HIV," she added.
"HIV is indiscriminate and we have a real opportunity to empower people to take charge of their own sexual health and reduce the instances of HIV diagnoses here.
"We are encouraged to hear this announcement and will be following the outcomes of the trial closely.
"Rolling out PrEP to Northern Ireland needs to happen as soon as possible as it will lead to the improvement of many lives."
A spokeswoman for Stormont's Department of Health said: "The department recognises the important challenge of preventing new cases of HIV in high risk groups.
"Whilst we continue to emphasise that practising safe sex and wearing condoms is highly effective in preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, we are working with the Health and Social Care Board, the Public Health Agency and the Belfast HSC Trust to determine how we could potentially provide PrEP in Northern Ireland for high risk groups.
"We are currently undertaking an analysis of the implications of this approach which includes estimating demand for such a service, overall impact on public health and the resources required and will present advice to a new minister for health when they are appointed."