While it may not be a cure to the 7.1 million South Africans living with HIV, Pre-Exposure Prohylaxis can protect those at high risk of contracting it.
And with that in mind, Right to Care, with the support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is rolling out Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) at three sites in Gauteng and one in the Western Cape, targeting those at high risk for HIV exposure particularly men who have sex with men and transgender people.
It is also expanding PrEP into another five provinces. PrEP is the use of antiretroviral drugs by HIV-negative people before potential exposure to prevent the acquisition of HIV.
Edward Sibanda, programme coordinator for the Global Fund Programme at Right to Care says, “PrEP is a significant development in the fight against HIV and AIDS and has been effectively used in several countries.”
“PrEP does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections and it is vital that PrEP is used in conjunction with other prevention methods such as condoms and lubricants. Using condoms is still the best way to prevent HIV infection as they also help protect against STIs and pregnancy when correctly used.”
Sibanda explains that Right to Care is focused on implementing PrEP in the broader context of the health spectrum that provides screening, testing, counselling, prevention and treatment services for HIV.
“Other vulnerable people who are at risk will also benefit from using PrEP. These could be sex workers, someone who knows their partner is having sex with other people outside of the relationship and people who are HIV negative and engaging in sex with people who are HIV positive.”
Having an HIV test is the first step for PrEP. “Patients are tested and if they are HIV negative they are tested again after 40 days. Only then are they eligible for PrEP,” says Sibanda.
PrEP is a pill that contains 200g of emtrici-tabine and 300mg of tenofovir. It takes a minimum of seven days to offer full protection and it must be taken daily. Most people can safely use PrEP but a healthcare provider will need to determine if there is any reason why someone should not take it.
Right to Care’s implementing partner in Johannesburg is the Anova Health Institute at the Yeoville Health4Men Clinic, corner of Hopkins and Kenmere Roads. The implementing partner in Pretoria is OUT Wellness at 1081 Pretorius Street Hatfield. In Cape Town, Right to Care is working with the Ivan Toms Centre for Men's Health, Woodstock Community Health Centre Victoria Walk Road Woodstock .
PrEP does not cure HIV and should never be taken by HIV positive people. Sibanda explains, “People who are HIV positive need a combination of three antiretroviral drugs. Antiretroviral therapy reduces the levels of HIV in their body. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is also a combination of antiretroviral drugs which are used when a person may have been exposed to HIV but must be taken within 72 hours after exposure and maintained for 28 days.”