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Sex + Relationships

Explainer: What is the PrEP pill and how can you access it?

Since March of 2020 sexual health services have been on hold due to Covid-19. This is leaving many people without access to essential healthcare, such as the PrEP pill.  


Some hospitals have had to take over some PrEP patients from other facilities, while others are only seeing existent patients and not taking on anyone new. 


PrEP is a combination pill that contains two medications known as tenofovir DF and emtricabine. When taken correctly, the pill can reduce HIV-negative people’s chances of getting HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).  


If a person finds themselves suddenly at risk for catching HIV, they can take PEP, a 28-day course of anti-HIV medication that can prevent the virus from establishing in the person’s blood stream. This must be taken within 72 hours of possible exposure. 


“PrEP is like the daily pregnancy pill whereas PEP is like the morning after pill,” explains Dean O’Reilly, DCU SU Vice President for Welfare and Equality. 


O’Reilly says this is his way of breaking it down and simplifying what both medications are because he thinks “those things help people better understand what HIV prevention and HIV supports actually exist.” 


HIV can be transmitted through having sex without a condom, both vaginal and anal, with someone who is HIV positive. Because of this, men who have sex with men (MSM) are considered an at-risk group for the virus. 


HIV is a preventable disease with PrEP being one of the main ways to prevent it. However, O’Reilly feels that not enough people are made aware of this service. 


“I found particularly among student populations there just isn’t really a lot of information around prep and its access” 


He added: “I would’ve considered this quite a priority for myself when I took over back in June to do my best to try and educate people on the accessibility of prep” 


According to sexual wellbeing, PrEP reduced the risk of HIV prevention by 86% in 2014, with almost all new infections occurring among those not on the medication. 


When O’Reilly started his role in the SU, one of the first things he done was share infographics about PrEP and PEP. He believes that people seeing him as someone on the pill can help others realise what supports are available. 


When it comes to “sensitive services” like sexual health and mental health O’Reily thinks “what makes a difference is seeing someone like you accessing the thing.”  


“When it comes to prep access it’s really important for me for folks to see me as someone who is on PrEP,” he said, “it makes it feel real.” 


O’Reilly stressed the importance of making people more aware of the treatment as he thinks not understanding what it is and how you can get PrEP is “the greatest barrier.” 


In order to access PrEP there are certain criteria that apply. O’Reilly explains that if you are in an at-risk group then you should apply for your drugs payment scheme card, get in touch with STI services for an appointment and then you will be prescribed for three months. 


At the moment, you cannot get a prescription from the on-campus GP. O’Reilly enquired about this earlier in the year, but it is not something that can currently be made possible due to Covid. 


However, the GP can refer you to a clinic to get PrEP and you can get your prescriptions filled in the on-campus pharmacy. 


It is important that we continue to promote PrEP so everyone is aware of the sexual health services available so we can enjoy sex safely.  

Journalism student and editor of Her Campus for DCU.
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