UPDATE: We previously published the story below, on the HIV prevention method PrEP. And, now, there’s an update. The Medicines Control Council has approved a drug called Truvada for HIV prevention. While already used in combination with another ARVs for treatment, it had not been licensed legally for prevention until now. Although, doctors were prescribing it ‘off-label’ for prevention. Now that it is legally registered for prevention, it will be easier to prescribe to people at a high risk of contracting HIV.
Here’s something you might not know about HIV prevention: There is a prevention method called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). It involves taking a pill, which, if taken daily in the correct doses, has been proven to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by up to 99%. The pill is a combination of two antiretroviral drugs used in HIV treatment. Pretty big news, right? Only, it’s not new. It has been around since 2012. So why don’t women know about it?
‘In our practice, the people that I see who are aware of PrEP are usually homosexual men. That’s because there is less stigma attached to HIV among members of this group, so they’re more likely to talk about prevention and treatment,’ says Dr Jireh Serfontein of My Sexual Health. ‘Heterosexual groups are less likely to know about it. Even though it’s been on the market for three years, it is underutilised in South Africa.’
The South African HIV Clinicians Society sets the guidelines for the drug’s usage. ‘While general practitioners are not always up to date with these guidelines, we do prescribe PrEP at My Sexual Health,’ Dr Serfontein says, ‘It is usually given to high-risk populations such as homosexual men, or to an HIV-negative person whose partner is HIV positive.’
The downside is that PrEP can cause sexually active people to engage in unsafe sex, thinking they’re ‘covered’. However, you can still get STIs while taking PrEP, so condom use is still recommended. Sadly, there is also a stigma attached to women who take it and critics are known to slut shame women.
When taking PrEP, Dr Serfontein says you should also have your kidneys checked regularly, as the main side-effect of PrEP is decreased kidney function. Also, you should have an HIV test done every three months. ‘You don’t want to be infected with HIV and continue taking PrEP. PrEP is made up of two antiretroviral drugs, while we usually treat HIV patients with a combination of three drugs. So, you’d be under-treated if taking PrEP for HIV.’