HIV Malta and MGRM note with satisfaction that there is a recent increased interest and dialogue related to PrEP and its role in preventing HIV.
Health Minister Chris Fearne committed himself to introduce PrEP trials in an online interview with MGRM in December 2019. More recently, Hon Rosianne Cutajar, Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms, has also pledged to work towards availability of PrEP, acknowledging the importance of the treatment in the fight against HIV. Opposition Leader Adrian Delia has today made a similar statement, calling for PrEP to be made available for free to LGBT+ people. Other members of both government and opposition have made similar statements in the past.
In all of these statements there is scope for research and studies to establish how to best execute all the options available to the health authorities. Dr Mark Josef Rapa in a recent article on The Malta Independent highlighted why Malta should avoid PrEP trials as launched in the UK, criticised for having been on a first-come-first-served basis and launched online. People who do not have access to the internet were automatically excluded from the study. A revised scheme turned the trial into a postcode lottery, with the medication given out only to people living in some parts of the United Kingdom but not others. We say this by being the first to admit that our own questions centred around HIV Trials, thus leading towards answers specifically relating to trials. Education campaigns are of equal importance in order to address misconceptions and in order to ensure that the correct and full information about HIV, testing and prevention is provided.
HIV is a virus that does not discriminate. This calls for a wider discussion into who needs the medication, not looking at sexuality or gender, but at who needs the treatment and why. We will take this opportunity to state that we no longer receive statistics that allows us to state with certainty which group is most at risk in Malta, and have to rely on statistics from abroad, and unofficial sources, in order to focus our work.
On a separate, but related tangent, we will reiterate the importance of making all HIV medication more accessible, not least PEP, which currently carries a price tag of EUR 600 and if not taken within 72 hours of an encounter with HIV, may lead to seroconversion.
We now look forward to carrying out more dialogue with all stakeholders including the relevant authorities in order to arrive to the resolutions needed in order to lead to a drop in rates akin to those in Australia and in London whilst embarking on the much needed education campaign soon.