Belfast Telegraph

HIV preventative drug could be ‘sea change’ for tackling epidemic

Dr Paddy Mallon, professor of microbial diseases in UCD, said the availability of PrEP is key to the HIV prevention programme.

Minister for Health Simon Harris hailed the new programme (Niall Carson/PA)
Minister for Health Simon Harris hailed the new programme (Niall Carson/PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

A researcher has said the HIV preventative drug PrEP, available from the start of next month, could mean “a sea change” for tackling the epidemic in Ireland.

Dr Paddy Mallon, professor of microbial diseases in UCD and consultant in St Vincent’s Hospital, said the significant move is key to the HIV prevention programme.

The programme will be rolled out across a number of STI clinics from November 4 and will expand next year.

It comes following the commitment of funding of 5.4 million euro in Budget 2020.

The announcement was made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne on Thursday.

In June, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) published a report which found that PrEP is safe and effective at preventing HIV in people at substantial risk.

The new programme means that those who attend an approved service and are found to be at substantial risk for HIV will be eligible for PrEP at no cost.

The programme provides PrEP as part of a holistic service that includes frequent monitoring for adherence and side effects, testing for HIV and other STIs, and counselling and advice on safer sex practices.

Dr Mallon, who is also on the board of HIV Ireland, said: “It’s great to see this getting over the line.

“It’s a result of a three year process, where HIV Ireland have been lobbying very heavily with sustained advocacy on behalf of the community.

“It’s a really big sea change in terms of being able to control the epidemic and it also puts that power to stop getting HIV in the hands of people who are at risk.

“It’s a very empowering thing to look after their sexual health if you know that there is a way of avoiding contracting HIV.

“We’ve seen a lot of proactive moves on behalf of government to address this head on and I think for the first time in a long time is one of the biggest moves at a policy level to address the HIV epidemic.

“At last we are seeing strong government moves to give the doctors, the community and health workers the ability to control the epidemic.

“This could be a real sea change for the epidemic in Ireland.”

Mr Varadkar said: “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.”

Mr Harris said: “Today is a really important milestone. For decades we have confined conversations about HIV to the shadows. Those living with HIV have felt stigmatised and shamed.

“Today, all that changes. From next month, the State will introduce a PrEP programme and confront the increase in cases of HIV in a real and practical way.”

Dr Fiona Lyons, consultant in genitourinary and HIV medicine at GUIDE Clinic, St James’s Hospital, said: “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.”

PA

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