Saturday 25 May 2019

Draft report finds HIV prevention drug PrEP safe and effective

Campaigners have been calling for the introduction of PrEP in Ireland for a number of years.

Campaigners have been calling for the introduction of PrEP in Ireland for a number of years (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Campaigners have been calling for the introduction of PrEP in Ireland for a number of years (Andrew Milligan/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

A draft report of a programme aimed at preventing HIV has found the drug is safe and effective.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) review of PrEP found that the drug is highly effective at preventing HIV in people at substantial risk.

A PrEP 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.

Campaigners have been calling for the introduction of PrEP in Ireland for a number of years as new HIV diagnosis continues to be a major concern across the country.

There were 531 new diagnoses last year, the highest on record, and Ireland is currently at almost double the European average.

Campaigners have said a lack of urgency from the Government is compounding the problem, which is seeing higher numbers than during the Aids crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sex education has also been flagged as a key component of tackling the issue, as myths and stigma around HIV present obstacles in the uptake of testing and safe sex.

The report also found that implementing a PrEP programme would be considered cost-saving compared with standard care.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed the publication of the draft report.

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

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

Mr Harris said the publication of the report is a significant step in the introduction of a PrEP programme in Ireland in 2019.

“Reducing the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland is a priority focus for me as minister for health,” he said.

“As the report notes, many of the people who would stand to benefit from a PrEP programme are from vulnerable or stigmatised groups in our society, so it is important that we continue to work to reach out and encourage more people to get tested and avail of the treatments and supports available.

“Considerable work is already under way in the HSE to prepare for the introduction of a PrEP programme that meets appropriate standards.”

The HIQA will now commence a public consultation for five weeks before presenting its final report for the minister.

Similar programmes have recently been introduced in a number of other countries.

Sinn Fein spokesperson on LGBTQI rights Senator Fintan Warfield welcomed the publication of the health technology assessment.

“The responses to rising HIV rates in recent years have ultimately not had an effect on bringing down transmission so a programme in which PrEP is accessible to those who are vulnerable to acquisition of HIV must be welcomed,” he said.

“I would also assert any PrEP programme needs to address our under-resourced testing services.”

Press Association

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