The Western Trust Sexual Health Service based at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry recently commenced a pilot programme of providing HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
Dr. John White, Consultant in Sexual Health/HIV medicine for the Western Trust explains: “PrEP is a pill you can take to protect you from HIV. It is extremely effective and if people at high risk of acquiring HIV take PrEP correctly, they don’t need to worry about their sexual partner’s HIV status.
"For 35 years we have been advising 100 per cent condom use to protect people from sexual transmission of HIV. Unfortunately, whilst condoms are very effective, this strategy hasn’t always worked for everyone and we have continued to see high rates of new HIV infections."
The Derry-based consultant said there has been huge progress in the treatment of HIV over the past three decades.
Dr. White said: “We can now treat HIV infection easily and people living with HIV who are on treatment with an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV on to anyone else.
"There are still many people who do not know their HIV status and sexual transmission can still occur if they are living with untreated HIV and having condomless sex.
"This is where PrEP comes in and it is a real game changer. If someone is taking PrEP correctly then even if they get exposed to HIV, they are nearly 100% protected against getting the infection.
"There are different ways of taking the pill – some take it daily but some only take it when they know they will be at risk. It is generally a very safe, well-tolerated medication with few side effects. Anyone at high risk of HIV infection can come see us at the Altnagelvin GUM clinic and we can provide the medication for free.”
Dr White continued: “It’s not for everyone – we currently advise PrEP for men who have sex with men or trans women who have condomless sex, or for anyone who has a partner who is living with HIV but does not have an undetectable viral load.
"In addition to PrEP, our friendly staff have the expertise to sort out all your sexual health needs including HIV PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), hepatitis & HPV vaccinations, STI screening, management of genital and anal symptoms as well as all types of contraception. Come and see us!”
For more information or advice please contact: The Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic in Altnagelvin Hospital or the Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex on T: (028) 7161 1269.