THE world’s first online HIV prevention service is set to be launched by the Scottish Government.

MSPs sported red ribbons to mark World Aids Day as Public Health minister Maree Todd announced that a pilot online PrEP clinic will open next year.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) refers to tablets which when taken before exposure to HIV prevent the spread of the disease. It has been available in Scotland since 2017.

The e-PrEP clinic, which the Scottish Government has allocated £200,000 to develop, will mean that people can test at home and manage their medication without the requirement to attend a specialist clinic.

It is hoped this will free up time for more complex cases and ease pressure on sexual health services.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon with campaigners and MSPs on World AIDS DayNicola Sturgeon with campaigners and MSPs on World AIDS Day (Image: Emma Roddick)

The Scottish Government has previously committed to a proposal which aims to end new transmission of the disease in Scotland by 2030.

Todd also announced that a new marketing campaign would be launched in the new year with the aim of ending HIV stigma in Scotland.

“Today, on World AIDS Day, we are taking another bold step to stop the spread of HIV in Scotland,” said Todd.

“Forty-years ago, an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence – today people with the virus are able to live long, happy and healthy lives thanks to effective treatment.

“Our commitment to develop an e-PrEP clinic is an important step towards ending stigma and empowering people at risk to take more control over their own healthcare.

“The proposal makes clear there is much work to be done and the marketing campaign will help raise awareness to ending stigma surrounding HIV.”

Additionally, the Scottish Government has now committed to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS 95-95-95 proposal.

This aims to diagnose 95% of those with the disease, ensure that 95% of those diagnosed are being treated, and that 95% of those on treatment have a suppressed viral load, which helps stop the spread of the disease.

Scottish Greens health spokesperson Gillian Mackay welcomed the announcements but said there was still work to be done.

She said: “According to the World Health Organisation, division, disparity and disregard for human rights are among the failures that allowed HIV to become and remain a global health crisis. We cannot make those same mistakes.

“We can only end HIV transmission by scaling up HIV services and removing structural barriers and tackling stigma and discrimination worldwide.”

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“If we are to improve care for people with HIV, and, crucially, work towards zero transmissions by 2030, we need to ensure everyone who has contracted HIV is tested and diagnosed. Initiatives such as HIV self-sampling tests will play an important part, but we must continue to seek other opportunities to widen access.

“The Terrence Higgins Trust is advocating for expanded opt-out HIV testing in healthcare settings, and the HIV Commission’s flagship recommendation is that opt-out rather than opt-in HIV testing must become routine across healthcare settings, starting with areas of high prevalence.”

She added: “World AIDS Day is an important reminder that HIV has not gone away. An estimated 38.4 million people live with HIV, and each year in the UK over 4139 people are diagnosed with the disease.

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"Access to diagnosis and treatment is not equitable and stigma is still a reality in many people’s lives. We must continue to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.”

MSPs backed an amendment which called on the Scottish Government to outline a clear timescale for eliminating HIV transmission by 2030.

The Tory amendment was unanimously backed following a debate on World Aids Day.

A Labour motion noting the rise in demand for access to adequate sexual health services was also supported by all MSPs. The Scottish Government motion recognising World Aids Day was then passed

Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene also praised the Scottish Government’s move to make PrEP universally available in Scotland.

However, he called for improvements to the accessibility of sexual health services in Scotland – particularly in rural areas.

MSPs also called for more women to be prescribed PrEP.