Emergency medication used to minimize the risk of HIV exposure is no longer being sold by a pharmacy at Mater Dei Hospital, prompting alarm among advocacy groups about its limited supply.

PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is taken following a possible exposure to HIV and is only effective for a 72-hour time window. It should be taken as soon as possible following a possible exposure to the virus. 

While PEP could previously be bought from a pharmacy within the national state hospital, health advocacy groups say it is now only available at three pharmacies across Malta.

Those pharmacies are subject to standard opening hours and are closed on Sundays and sometimes Saturday afternoons.

“Should someone wish to acquire PEP in the short window that it can be effectively taken, they need to get a prescription from A&E or the GU Clinic. The patient then needs to trek to one of the only three pharmacies that stock it, hoping the pharmacy is open, and not knowing whether or not it will be out of stock there too,” a cluster of NGOs noted in a statement early on Saturday.

“The consequences of not getting PEP in time could mean the difference between living with a chronic condition or not,” they noted.

It is not known why PEP is no longer being sold to private individuals from the Mater Dei pharmacy. The medication’s limited availability at private pharmacies is down to a choice made by pharmacists to not stock it.

Advocacy groups said that pharmacists and pharmacies had a duty to take their oaths and responsibilities more seriously and start stocking PEP.

The situation is especially concerning for people in Gozo, they noted, with not a single pharmacy on the island selling PEP.

Malta has the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in Europe, with a rate that is four times the EU average. 

Problems with making PEP available to patients stand in stark contrast to the Labour government’s electoral pledge to make the medication free for all during this coming legislature – a promise that was included in the party’s electoral manifesto.

Advocacy groups wryly noted that “at this stage not only is PEP not free as promised, but there are days when it cannot even be bought.”

“People are not taking fewer drugs and having less sex just because authorities are not acknowledging this. It is their job to safeguard everyone without prejudice, and this is clearly not happening. We appeal to the government’s human rights obligations that each and every individual has the right to access healthcare,” they said as they urged authorities to restock PEP at the Mater Dei pharmacy.

The statement was endorsed by: Checkpoint Malta, HIV Malta within MGRM, ARC – Allied Rainbow Communities, LGBTI+ Gozo,  aditus, Dracha LGBTI

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