Factors associated with the informal use of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis in Germany: a cross-sectional study.J Int AIDS Soc 2019; 22(10):e25395JI
Until September 2019, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with tenofovir disoproxil/emtricitabine for HIV prevention was not covered by health insurance plans in Germany, and was only available through private prescriptions with self-pay or through informal non-prescription sources. The objective of this study was to investigate the proportion of informal PrEP use among PrEP users and to identify factors of public health relevance that might be associated with informal PrEP use.
We conducted a cross-sectional study recruiting PrEP users independent of their PrEP source. Clients from anonymous community testing checkpoints, users of three dating apps for men who have sex with men residing in Germany and users of a PrEP community website, were recruited to complete a short anonymous online survey. Participants were recruited between 24 July and 3 September 2018. The results were analysed using univariable and multivariable logistic regressions.
We recruited 2005 participants currently using PrEP. The median age was 38 years, and 80.3% of the participants identified themselves as male (missing: 19.1%). Overall, 71.6% obtained PrEP through medical services with a private prescription or a clinical trial, and 17.4% obtained PrEP through informal sources (missing: 11.0%). The most common informal sources were ordering online from another country (8.8%), travel abroad (3.6%), and friends (2.5%). Factors associated with informal PrEP use were on demand/intermittent dosing (adjusted OR: 3.5, 95% CI 2.5 to 5.0) and not receiving medical tests during PrEP use (adjusted OR: 3.2, 95% CI 2.0 to 5.2). In addition, informal PrEP users who did not take PrEP daily had a strongly increased risk of starting PrEP without prior medical tests (adjusted stratum-specific OR = 31.7, 95% CI 4.6 to 219.5).
Informal PrEP use was associated with a higher risk of not getting tested before and during PrEP use, which could lead to HIV infections resistant to tenofovir and emtricitabine if people with undiagnosed HIV use PrEP. Health insurance plans that cover PrEP and the accompanying routine tests could ensure adequate medical supervision of PrEP users and reduce barriers to PrEP use. Our findings strongly support the implementation of PrEP programmes in countries with similar patterns of informal PrEP use.