Norway has become the first country in the world to offer at-risk citizens the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug at no cost, as part of its National Health Service.
Bent Høie, the country’s minister for health and social care, made the announcement earlier this week.
Norway joins Canada, France, South Africa, and the United States in offering the HIV prevention drug, although Norway is currently the only country to distribute it for free.
Multiple studies have found PrEP to be highly effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. One study found people could reduce their infection risk by 92-99% depending on how many pills they take per week.
Norway’s government lobbied for the last two years to bring PrEP to those who face an increased risk of contracting HIV — gay and bisexual men and trans women.
“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,” Leif-Ove Hansen, the president of HIV Norway, said in a statement, New Now Next reports.
An estimated 2.1 million people around the world were newly infected with HIV in 2015, bringing the current total to approximately 36.7 million people.
While many of the HIV management drugs now allow people living with the disease to enjoy a similar quality of life to healthy populations, prevention is still the cheaper and safer option.
In other countries where PrEP is available, prices for users can range. In the US, many insurance companies cover most of the cost so that patients are only responsible for the co-pay. (Without insurance, the drug can cost up to $24,000 a year.) In France, the drug is reimbursable once patients submit a receipt.
But Norway is the first to offer.