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Norway provides PrEP for free to all those at risk of HIV

Caitlin Mahon

14 November 2016

Provision of game-changing drug, Truvada, for pre-exposure prophylaxis in Norway provides stark contrast to UK NHS' lack of will to fund the drug.

A Norwegian flag blowing in the wind
Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply health status or behaviour.

Norway has become the first country in the world to offer pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for free under their national health service. The game-changing drug, Truvada – the only drug approved for PrEP – will be offered to groups considered at risk of HIV, including gay and bisexual men and transgender women.

PrEP is the provision of antiretroviral therapy to protect HIV-negative people from HIV before any potential exposure. Studies have shown that PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection from unprotected sex by over 90%. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised the potential population-wide benefits of PrEP and released new guidelines recommending PrEP be offered to all people who are at substantial risk of HIV.

Norway’s epidemic is relatively small, around 5,800 people are living with HIV in the country, with only 221 new infections in 2015. The large majority of these were men who have sex with men (MSM) and people who had been infected outside of Norway.

Leif-Ove Hansen, president of HIV Norway, the group advocating for increased PrEP access in the country, 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.”

Despite the new WHO recommendations, global PrEP roll-out has been slow, with cost be being a major barrier to uptake. The USA approved PrEP in 2012, with Canada, France, South Africa, Kenya and Israel all following, but Norway is the first country to offer it for free.

Norway’s move is in stark contrast to developments in the UK last week, where the NHS lost a High Court appeal, ruling that they were responsible for the provision of PrEP.

Ian Green, chief executive of Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK, 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.”

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