By Wambui Pauline
Daily anti retro-viral pill, PrEP, is only for HIV-negative people who are at an on-going risk of HIV infection.
The government has dismissed fears that the HIV pre- exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drug it launched this month could be abused.
The National AIDS & STI Control Programme (Nascop) has come out to dispel worries that young people may be tempted to engage in reckless sex believing in the protection of the pill.
Questions have arisen regarding the largely championed ABC approach where people were advised to Abstain, Be faithful or use a Condom as a sure way of avoiding HIV infection.
“We have now information and evidence that shows no one method is effective,” Head of Nascop, Martin Sirengo, says.
Sirengo stresses that PrEP has been introduced as part of a package of interventions and as such, it shouldn’t be used alone.
“You may be in the space of abstinence, then you graduate into a relationship and you become faithful. But you don’t know the partner you have, maybe they are in another relationship, then you need to use condoms. So, we need to use a combination of interventions.”
With reports indicating that a large number of Kenyan youth are more afraid of unplanned pregnancies than contracting HIV, the introduction of the drug raises concerns that it could propel young people into promiscuity under the assumption of full protection from the HIV/Aids epidemic.
Sirengo, however, says the notion it could encourage reckless sex is misplaced, while at the same time clarifying that anyone who meets the criteria to be on PrEP, will not be denied access.
“If the young person meets the criteria of anyone who needs to use PrEP, so be it, they should get it. That I could be protected from HIV, but I could get other STIs, I could get pregnant.”
Sex workers and their patrons for instance, fall in the category of the PrEP target group since they are at an ongoing risk of contracting HIV.
In Homa Bay County where one in every four people is HIV positive, sex workers like Janet who says she ensures she uses a condom with a client, have an opportunity to reduce transmission.
With PrEP, Janet can protect an HIV negative partner from infection if he takes the daily pill for at least seven days before exposure. She too can protect herself in a similar way.
“If they fall into the category of multiple sexual partners and they do not have control over safe sex like using a condom, they fit that category. They should use it,” the Nascop head says.
PrEP shouldn’t be taken unless it has been prescribed by a health provider. Taking PrEP includes more frequent medical visits and routine blood tests, about every three months. Due to the potential side effects on some patients, if you cannot find a medical professional or clinic to provide regular HIV and STD testing you shouldn’t be on PrEP.
“The biggest downside is they myths about this drug. People thinking I can just take this drug and voila! I can do whatever I want. You need to be checked before you use it. For instance, if you have liver disease you can’t use it. You can’t go over the counter and just buy it; it may send you to an early grave!
You can access PrEP in selected health facilities at no cost or at Ksh.20 per pill.