PrEP. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
A life-saving trial of the preventative HIV drug PrEP will be rolled out across Northern Ireland in a two-year pilot programme.
PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) is the most effective protection against HIV transmission. It is provided on the NHS in Scotland and in Wales but has not been as easily accessible in England and Northern Ireland.
But on Thursday (June 18), Northern Ireland politician Paula Bradshaw, the Alliance Party spokesperson for health, wrote on Twitter : “Pleased to have received confirmation [from] Health Department finance officials that the two-year pilot programme for the provision of PrEP (medicine taken to prevent HIV) will be funded/continued through the GUM Clinic [at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust].
“A preventative measure that saves on all fronts!”
Pleased to have received confirmation @healthdpt finance officals @niahealth that the 2-yr pilot programme for the provision of #PrEP (medicine taken to prevent #HIV) will be funded/continued through the GUM Clinic @BelfastTrust
A preventative measure that saves on all fronts!
— Paula Bradshaw MLA (@PaulaJaneB) June 18, 2020
According to I Want PrEP Now, all GUM clinics in Northern Ireland will be offering consultation and assessment appointments for the pilot programme, and those who are eligible will be referred to a centralised service in Belfast.
To access PrEP as part of the programme, patients must be over the age of 16, a resident in Northern Ireland and have tested negative for HIV within the last 12 months.
Brilliant news! #PrEP to be fully available in Northern Ireland. I hope this leads to a more accessible, decentralised dispensing service. https://t.co/Pt0Zy16V8K
— Greg Owen (@Greg0wen) June 18, 2020
Those taking part will also have to attend reviews four times per year in Belfast, and be willing to stop taking PrEP when no longer eligible.
There is currently no cap on the number of participants.
PrEP to be rolled out in England.
In March this year, the Department of Health announced that PrEP would be rolled out across England, available to anyone at risk of contracting HIV.
The announcement followed a two-year trial which saw around 20,000 at-risk people able to access PrEP on the NHS.
However, many queer men were left without access because of caps on the number of participants which meant trial places allocated for men who have sex with men rapidly ran out in some parts of the country.
NHS England has now said it will cover the cost of the drug, and that £16m of funding will be made available for related services like HIV testing.
Will Nutland, co-founder of campaign group PrEPster, said in a statement following the announcement: “After over five years of fighting, including two court cases, individuals having to rely on buying PrEP online, or on a trial that has often been full, we applaud that a decision has finally been made about funding PrEP in England.”