Anti-HIV drug 'is safe and highly effective', says health watchdog
An anti-HIV tablet will be offered to at-risk groups later this year after an independent review found it safe and highly effective.
The daily tablet, Truvada, contains two anti-retroviral drugs, tenofovir and emtricitabine, and is taken as part of PrEP, a HIV prevention programme.
The two drugs work together to interfere with an enzyme which HIV uses to infect new cells, slowing down the virus's attack or preventing it altogether.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), which carried out the assessment of the drug, said it found it highly effective in preventing HIV transmission in gay and bisexual men.
There is a 75pc reduction in the risk of getting the virus and it would present a cost saving to the health service in around eight years.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris welcomed the draft report, which is now open to consultation over the next five weeks before presenting a final version.
"We want to reduce the number of new HIV diagnoses in Ireland. Increasing the availability of PrEP will help us to do so," said Mr Varadkar.
"This report not only confirms that PrEP can help to prevent HIV among 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."
Mr Harris added: "The publication of this draft 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. The introduction of a PrEP programme will make a significant contribution to that aim."
The programme would involve offering the medication to at-risk groups "within a holistic service which includes regular monitoring and testing, as well as advice and counselling on safer sex practices. Similar programmes have recently been introduced in a number of other countries".
Dr Máirín Ryan, of Hiqa, warned: "HIV infection remains a significant public health concern. There were 492 diagnoses of HIV notified in Ireland in 2017. Just over half of all notifications were in men who have sex with men."
The annual cost of the drug ranged from €232 to €14,659 per person. The average cost is €6,543. A doctor's prescription is needed to get PrEP and it can cost between €50 and €90 for a month's supply.