Private Thai clinics barred from giving away PrEP/PEP meds

Photo: Max Pixel / CC-BY-2.0
Photo: Max Pixel / CC-BY-2.0

Private health care professionals reacted today to a decision preventing them from providing free medication used to prevent HIV infection.

After a Health Ministry decree that private clinics may no longer give away supplies of so-called PrEP and PEP drugs went into effect today, the head of chief AIDS prevention at the Thai Red Cross said it created a needless barrier for patients.

“It’s clearly a health rights violation that bars people from accessing health care services,” said Nittaya Phanuphak Pungpapong, who heads AIDS prevention efforts for the Thai Red Cross Society. “This makes the goal to end HIV/AIDS by 2030 go off track.”

PrEP, aka pre-exposure prophylaxis, is highly effective at reducing the chance of contracting HIV from sex or drug use. PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis, is effective at preventing the disease after exposure.

The decision to cut government spending on private health care services was announced late last month by top officials, including a representative of the agency which decides public health care priorities, as a cost-saving measure. 

As a result, commercial and nonprofit private clinics announced they would no longer provide the drugs for free. 

On Friday, Swing Thailand, a private group focused on Thailand’s sex workers, announced it would no longer provide free PrEP and PEP medication as of today.

“SWING clinic Silom branch and Saphan Khwai branch will not provide PrEP, PEP service due to the announcement of the Ministry of Public Health as non-hospital services are not allowed to pay for PrEP, PEP,” it announced. “The SWING clinic would like to apologize to all service users. We tried our best to fight. but can not do anything contrary to the order announced by the Minister of Public Health.”

The drugs are still available from public hospitals. Under the rules, people using their government-administered health care benefits and public employees can receive both drugs at public hospitals.

A Swing representative said Monday that they were concerned that public hospitals lack the specialized expertise of some private providers. The group has also said that state-funded clinics are often inaccessible to sex workers.

The Rainbow Sky Association, a community organization promoting sexual diversity, announced that its clinics stopped dispensing antiviral drugs to new customers on Saturday and will no longer supply existing customers today because it was against the law.

“Fah See Rung Medical Technology Clinic in Ramkhamhaeng and Chonburi will not be able to provide PrEP because it is against the Medical Facility Act,” it said in a statement.

Pulse, which operates a chain of commercial sexual health clinics in Bangkok, said it has supplied and will continue to supply the drugs for a fee.

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Additional reporting Chayanit Itthipongmaetee

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