Anti-HIV drug to be made available in Ireland from Monday

HSE assessing whether to cover the cost of the drug

Anti-HIV drug Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) will be available for purchase in Ireland from next Monday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed on Friday.

PrEP is a once-daily medication that has been proven to reduce the risk of HIV infection, particularly among members of the gay community, by up to 90 per cent.

A generic version of the medication will be available in pharmacies from next week. The cost of PrEP is not covered by the HSE, and currently it can be obtained privately with a doctor's prescription at a cost of € 400 a month. The cost of the generic drug, made by Teva Pharmaceuticals, is expected to be under €100 per month.

If the medicine is taken before sex, it protects people from catching HIV and can help drastically reduce the number of people becoming infected.

The HSE said an assessment was taking place on whether it would be cost effective for it to cover the cost of the drug.

Speaking on Friday – which is World Aids Day – Minister for Health Simon Harris said “a lot of good work has been done implementing the National Sexual Health Strategy and we are increasing access to HIV testing, condoms, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), sexual health services, antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV and harm reduction interventions for people who use drugs.

“While the figures for those being diagnosed with HIV are too high, it is encouraging that in 2016 there was a 6 per cent decline in HIV infections, where there was no history of previous HIV diagnosis abroad. We must and will do more in this area so that we can reduce the number of new infections and ensure the health and wellbeing of those living with HIV.

“I’m very keen to see increased access to PrEP in Ireland and I welcome the news that from next week a generic form of the drug will be available, meaning more people are going to have access to it. A lot of work is being done in this area.

“A working group has been set up to make recommendations in relation to (HIV) PrEP in Ireland and develop the necessary guidance, including developing standards for delivery of PrEP care, drafting a clinical management protocol for PrEP and a monitoring and evaluation framework.”

Work is planned in the near future to assess the feasibility of implementing the PrEP standards within public STI clinics.

The charity HIV Ireland welcomed the availability of the drug in Ireland, but said it needed to be available to everyone, "not just those people who can afford it".

Niall Mulligan, Executive Director of HIV Ireland welcomed the news from Teva as “a step in the right direction”, but warned that “even at a reduced cost of approximately €100 per month it remains out of reach for many people who would benefit from PrEP. We renew our call on the Government to make PrEP available to all people who need it, and not allow price to be a barrier.”

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen is Health & Family Editor of The Irish Times