The Government has confirmed a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) programme to prevent HIV is to be rolled out from November 4th.
The programme will initially be provided in a number of STI clinics.
It will then expand in 2020, following the announcement of funding of €5.4m for full roll-out next year in Budget 2020.
PrEP is a combination tablet containing two drugs: tenofivir and emtricitabine.
It is taken by HIV negative people before exposure to HIV, including before sex, to prevent HIV infection.
A fixed dose combination tablet has been licensed and available for use as PrEP in Ireland since 2016.
While licensed, it is not reimbursed through the Primary Care Reimbursement Service - meaning those with a prescription for PrEP must pay out-of-pocket.
The new programme starting in November 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.
An updated list of approved PrEP service providers, including clinic times and contact information, will be available here.
The approved service providers as of October 10th in public STI clinics currently are:
- Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) Dublin
- GUIDE Clinic, St James’s Hospital, Dublin
- Mater Misericordiae University Hospital (MMUH)
- Prevention Support Clinic, St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin
- Cork University Hospital
- Sexual Health Clinic, Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise
- University Hospital Galway
Two private services in Dublin are also approved PrEP service providers.
People will need to pay a consultation fee for private services, but their medication will be free if they meet the clinical eligibility criteria.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "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 to 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."
Health Minister Simon 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, 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."
In June, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) published an assessment report which found that PrEP is safe and effective at preventing HIV in people at substantial risk.
It also found that the introduction of a PrEP programme would be cost-saving.
PrEP is available in at least 49 countries worldwide with 11 countries providing PrEP through national programmes - including Belgium, France, Norway, Portugal and Scotland.