Taoiseach and Ministers announce HIV PrEP programme to start from 4 November 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne recently announced that a HIV PrEP programme will begin from 4 November 2019. 

The programme will initially be provided in a number of STI clinics from November and will expand in 2020 following the announcement of funding of €5.4 million for full roll-out next year in Budget 2020. 

The Taoiseach commented: “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. 

Minister 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 [November], the State will introduce a PrEP programme and confront the increase in cases of HIV in a real and practical way. 

“I also hope it will also be the beginning of a new conversation about HIV and one that those living with it are at the centre of. 

Minister Byrne added: “The introduction of a PrEP programme will be a significant boost to our overall efforts to prevent HIV and STIs. Along with other recent investments, such as Ireland signing-up to the international HIV Fast Track Cities initiative, I am confident we will continue to make progress and improve outcomes in this important area of public health. 

“Good sexual health and wellbeing is important for our overall physical and mental health, and especially so in our young people. In addition, many of the people who will benefit from a PrEP programme are from vulnerable or stigmatised groups in our society, so I hope that this announcement will help us support more people to have positive sexual health outcomes.” 

Dr Fiona Lyons, Consultant in Genitourinary and HIV Medicine, 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. I also welcome the announcement by Government of the roll-out of a PrEP programme, which includes resources to support services to implement PrEP.  This is crucial to successful PrEP implementation. I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen.” 

A PrEP programme involves the pre-emptive use of antiretroviral medication to prevent HIV infection, within a holistic prevention 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 countries. 

In June, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) published a Health Technology Assessment report, which found that a PrEP is safe and effective at preventing HIV in people at substantial risk, and also found that the introduction of a PrEP programme would be cost-saving. 

The new programme means that those who attend an approved service and are found to be at substantial risk for HIV and meet the clinical eligibility criteria will be eligible for PrEP free of charge, dispensed through community pharmacies. 

Information for people who think they may be at risk from HIV and are considering taking PrEP is available at sexualwellbeing.ie/prep

The list of approved providers, as well as national standards and clinical management guidance, and information on how to apply to be an approved HIV PrEP service, are also available on sexualwellbeing.ie. This list of approved HIV PrEP services will be updated as new service providers are approved.