Ireland has 500 new cases of HIV each year, which is out of sync with other countries where increased access to PrEP has led to significant falls, and campaign research shows that 57% of existing PrEP users in Ireland obtain the medication from unregulated sources.
According to new research, out of those taking PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), 57% are getting it from unregulated sources, particularly online providers.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication shown to dramatically reduce the risk of contracting HIV (over 85%) was made available on private prescription through Irish pharmacies last December for the first time.
The research, undertaken by Gay Community News, on behalf of Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland, examined a number of areas in relation to PrEP such as; sexual health, sexually transmitted infections (STI), attitudes on HIV and awareness, and use of PrEP amongst the gay community. There were 622 respondents to the survey, of which 97% were male.
The research informs a new campaign, entitled PrEPLoveLife, which is designed to increase awareness of PrEP amongst groups most at risk of HIV infection and transmission, while also informing the general public on the overall positive effect PrEP has for modern-day Ireland, in conjunction with safer sex practices.
While the research findings show high levels of awareness of PrEP generally, 30% of respondents did not know or were unsure whether it was available in Ireland.
Key findings from the research include:
Awareness and use of PrEP
§ A high level of awareness about PrEP (97%) generally amongst respondents, but lower levels of awareness of its availability in Ireland;
§ 30% of those surveyed either did not know or were unsure if PrEP was available in Ireland;
§ One third of 24 to 30-year olds (33%) – a key target group for HIV risk reduction strategies – were not aware or were unsure that PrEP was available in Ireland;
§ Only 10% of respondents are currently using PrEP, with 81% taking it on a daily basis;
§ Of those using PrEP, a majority (57%), said they obtain PrEP from unregulated sources, with the majority doing so online. The next largest sources were pharmacy (18%), an STI clinic (15%) or from a hospital (6%).
STI testing is an essential part of safeguarding each person’s sexual and overall health.
For those using PrEP, STI testing every three months is a requirement;
§ The survey found that just 18% of respondents has an STI test at least every three months, 24% do so every six months, 38% at least once a year, but 19% rarely or ever do.
§ 65% of those surveyed said that HIV is a topic of conversation amongst their peers, while almost three in five (58%) said they would tell a new partner their HIV status before having sex with that partner;
§ Those aged 41 and over (12%) were much less likely to talk about their HIV status than those aged 24-30 years old (39%).
Use of condoms:
§ 55% of those surveyed bring condoms with them on a date, while 43% of respondents would not expect their date to bring condoms.
While PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STI) or pregnancy, and it is not a cure for HIV, it is recognised as a powerful HIV tool when combined with condoms and other methods.
Cities and countries globally where PrEP is widely used, have seen significant falls in the incidence of new cases of HIV.
In New York City, the health authorities have proactively supported increased access and availability to PrEP, leading to a 9% decrease in new cases of HIV. Australia’s government announced that it would publicly fund PrEP for patients who wished to avail of it. In England, the NHS have made PrEP available to 10,000 patients.
By contrast, in Ireland, the incidence of HIV continues to increase. In the first five weeks of 2018 alone, 29 new cases of HIV were diagnosed(i).
The most recent full-year data (for 2016) shows that a total of 508 new individuals were diagnosed with HIV – a 5% annual increase and part of a broader increase in recent years(ii) .
Commenting on the survey results, Sandra Gannon, General Manager of Teva, said:
“[…]it’s important to remember [..] that the risk of contracting HIV remains a real one for many. While, thankfully, the disease can now be more effectively managed than was once the case, reducing the risk of infection in the first place should be a priority.
PrEP has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of HIV infection in conjunction with safe sex practices, particularly for those deemed at high risk, such as gay and bisexual men, and transgender women, but also for heterosexual men and women”.
“The survey results point to a large awareness of PrEP, but less so on its availability on private prescription in Irish pharmacies. Word of mouth plays an important part in awareness of PrEP and its’ availability in Ireland. Knowing this, it’s important that the correct information is put out to those at risk of HIV and the general public.
Equally, it is important that those using PrEP are going for check-ups with their healthcare provider once every three months, to ensure that the medication is working as effectively as possible for them.
“The fact that this life-changing medication is still only available to private patients remains an issue for those who are seeking to access it. Healthcare decision-makers here need to consider this current barrier and look to other countries such as Australia who have recognised not only the societal, but financial benefits, to supporting a risk reduction approach to HIV”, added Gannon.
For more information on PrEP, please visit www.PrepLoveLife.ie
(i) Weekly HIV and STI Reports: Week 5, 2018, Health Surveillance and Protection Centre
(ii) HIV in Ireland Report, Health Surveillance and Protection Centre, 2016: