𝗠𝗚𝗥𝗠 𝗟𝗮𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗵𝗲𝘀 𝗛𝗜𝗩 𝗠𝗮𝗹𝘁a
The Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM) has today launched its new HIV Malta campaign and website www.HIVMalta.com. HIV Malta’s objectives are to destigmatise HIV, start a conversation on the subject by making information easily accessible, promote the importance of mental wellbeing, and ensure that there is an ongoing commitment to make newly developed HIV medication including that which is preventive, available without any further delay. Given the significant global improvement in the understanding of the virus and new antiretrovirals (ARVs) with less side effects, individuals living with HIV can now expect to live a normal healthy life. Research endorsed by WHO and the CDC shows that effective treatment suppresses the viral load making the virus undetectable and therefore untransmittable (Undetectable = Untransmittable, or U=U). This can only be achieved through rapid and unobstructed access to modern medicine and treatment, with the best results seen in those countries where treatment has been reduced from 5-6 a day to a single tablet a day. The single-tablet treatment regimen is still not available in Malta. Some of the drugs currently being administered have even, for long, been struck off from international medical guidelines (EACS and WHO). Like other stakeholders, MGRM remains in the dark with respect to a Request for Proposals (RFP) for improved treatment launched in February 2019, and although imminent news is expected about new treatment, to date, there has been no consultation with us stakeholders. It also remains unclear whether additional services listed in the RFP would eventually lead to partial or total privatisation of HIV-related care which is very much a public matter. Questions on whether this would require sharing of data also remained unanswered. Similarly, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a pill which reduces the risk of acquiring HIV by over 99%, remains not affordable for the most members of society and might therefore not be accessible by those who would mostly benefit from it. Although this is a marked improvement over the previous situation where PrEP was not available locally, we cannot help but comment on the fact that the same generic treatment sold in Malta at a price of EUR 57, is available for purchase online, and in several other European countries, at around half the price. Even more shockingly, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), an emergency treatment administered after possible exposure to HIV, provided solely at Mater Dei comes at EUR 600, notwithstanding the continuous and repeated appeals to make it free. Individuals who are unable to afford paying this unreasonable price are turned away. This irresponsible approach to preventative treatment comes at the expense of avoidable HIV diagnosis, and the financial cost of a lifetime of care and treatment. Against this background, MGRM will be announcing several projects, including a new messaging campaign on dating apps, and other specific projects within different sectors of the community. HIV Malta aims to work in tandem with other NGOs and stakeholders including Preping Malta, the ARC - allied rainbow communities and the newly set-up Checkpoint Malta to bring this plan to fruition. Furthermore, the Rainbow Support Service which is now in its sixth year, remains committed to enhancing the quality of life of LGBTIQ individuals including those living with HIV, through the provision of information, consultation and psycho-social welfare services.