Norway to provide free HIV-preventing PrEP drugs to at-risk gay men
Norway is sending a bold message to the world by becoming the first country to make HIV-preventing PrEP drugs available through its National Health Service.
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada can reduce the risk of being infected with HIV by up to 86% if taken daily, and has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for at-risk men who have sex with men (MSM).
It is already available in a number of countries including the United States, Canada, South Africa and France.
Norway has this week become the second country in Europe to make PrEP available, announcing that PrEP drugs will be available free of charge to at-risk groups via its National Health Scheme.
According to HIV Norway, Minister for Health and Social Care Bent Høie announced the move, making Norway the first country in the world to make the drug free for users.
The decision by the minister is taken on recommendations from the Health Directorate and the Institute of Public Health.
It is a result of two years of lobbying by HIV Norway – the national organisation for people living with HIV.
Leif-Ove Hansen, the president of HIV Norway, said: “PrEP will contribute to reducing the rate of new infections in the gay community, as gay men are facing a risk of infection much higher than the general population.
“Condom use is on the decline, and we are happy that PrEP now is an integrated part of the public health service.”
The news has been met with applause from HIV charities in the UK, where NHS England has been fighting a legal battle over the responsibility to commission the drugs.
Ian Green, Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Norway’s decision to provide PrEP is another great step forward for HIV prevention in Europe. PrEP is a game changer and, when used alongside condoms, regular testing and effective treatment, it can help end the HIV epidemic for good.
“The announcement is a reminder that here in the UK we are still waiting for PrEP to be available on the NHS to those at risk of HIV. Every day NHS England delays access, 17 people are diagnosed – and the lifetime cost to the NHS for each diagnosis is £360,000.
“NHS England must stop with their delays and confusion, and make PrEP immediately available to those at risk of HIV here at home.”