From today, all Dutch regional Health Authorities (GGD) can commence distributing the HIV prevention pill PrEP, together with the corresponding medical care to gay and bisexual men along with other groups that are at increased risk of contamination.
The Dutch Aids Foundation, COC Netherlands and the activist group PrEPnu, along with other organisations, have long argued for the provision of PrEP in The Netherlands. Minister Bruins has guaranteed that the pills will have been acquired and be available as of today, together with funds for extra GGD staff.
The Dutch Aids Foundation and COC Netherlands reacted by saying: "At last more people will be better able to protect themselves against HIV. For years, we have been arguing the case that people at increased risk should have access to PrEP and the necessary medical care that goes along with it. We know that regional GGD clinics are carefully preparing for the start of the PrEP provision, and that they are able to reach the people most at risk. With PrEP as a means of protection, in addition to, for example, the use of condoms, we can dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections and make the Netherlands the first country with zero new HIV infections."
Research has shown that PrEP can drastically reduce the number of new HIV infections. In San Francisco, for instance, the number of new HIV diagnoses has nearly halved. PrEP is used as an additional preventive measure against HIV, in addition to other preventative methods, such as the use of condoms and early testing.
The introduction of PrEP will not only mean fewer new HIV infections, but also improved sexual health. PrEP users are, for instance, less afraid of contracting HIV. Moreover, research has shown that PrEP saves money as providing PrEP is cheaper than providing life-long HIV care. Furthermore, PrEP does not lead to increased numbers of STDs and is already being provided in countries such as France, Norway, Scotland, Belgium and Portugal, among others.
In March 2018, the Dutch Health Council advised the government to make PrEP available to gay and bisexual men with an increased risk of contracting HIV. After continual pressure from the Dutch Aids Foundation, COC Netherlands and other organizations and activists, and at the insistence of the Lower House, especially from the parties D66 and GroenLinks, Minister Bruins promised last summer to provide a PrEP distribution system, which will now come into effect on 1 August.
PrEP pills will be available from GGD clinics for people who are at relatively high risk from HIV. The Ministry estimates that this will involve approximately 6,500 people. The scheme will operate on a provisional basis until 2024. The PrEP users themselves will also have to pay a small contribution toward the costs.
According to the Health Minister, the provision and reimbursement of PrEP should drastically reduce Health Care costs. The new measure should save around 33 million Euro in HIV treatment costs over five years, while the expected costs for the provision of PrEP should be in the region of 22 million Euro.
There are, however, still a number of limitations to the new PrEP regulation. These include a maximum budget of 22 million Euro, which is expected to provide PrEP for up to 6,500 people. There are also limitations on the provision of PrEP by general practitioners, and people must therefore apply to the GGD for PrEP.