WINDHOEK, (NAMPA) – The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSS) held a seminar on 25 July, 2017 to sensitise the media about the just-rolled out Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication.
PrEP, taken by individuals at “substantial risk” of contracting the Human Immuno Virus (HIV) which causes Aids (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), is part of a prevention combination package which includes the use of male and female condoms, lubricants, and Antirtroviral Therapy (ART) for HIV-positive partners, among others.
The Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council approved PrEP in May this year but up till now it is not dispensed in public health facilities.
Briefing the media, Control Health Programme Officer in the ministry, Sarah Tobias strongly advised the public to understand that PrEP is not a cure for HIV nor does it intend to replace existing evidence based HIV prevention strategies.
“PrEP is one of the additional prevention tools that can be used for people who perceive themselves to be at substantial risk of HIV infection,” said Tobias.
However, she noted that a common concern around PrEP is that people may increase risk activities as a result of a new sense of security such as having sex without a condom or having multiple sexual partners.
“PrEP should not be used as an excuse to stop using protection, as the drug is 92 per cent effective. It does not prevent other sexually transmitted diseases,” she sternly warned.
Speaking at the same event, Dr Kevin Rebe at Equip Health Institute emphasised that PrEP is prescribed alongside additional HIV prevention tools including condoms, lubricants, STI testing and treatment, as well as regular HIV counselling and testing.
He emphasised that PrEP users are required to take the drug every day and it is only effective after 20 days.
“Individuals may take PrEP because they are already at risk of getting HIV and this will help them to stay negative,” said Rebe.
Rebe noted that, PrEP is not a life-long medication, and individuals can stop taking the medication once they are no longer at risk.
In June this year, the Society for Family Health Namibia in collaboration with MoHSS and financial support from United Agency for International Development (USAID) rolled out a pilot study in Walvis Bay and Oshikango community clinics, and in Windhoek through the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association clinic to distribute PrEP.
Those at high risk include, HIV negative people in a relationship with a partner who is HIV positive, partners of unknown HIV status, multiple sexual partners, transgender community, adolescents and those who opt to have sex while under the influence of alcohol.
Two participants of the Walvis Bay study gave testimony on why they had opted to use PrEP. A 29-year-old worker at the Society for Family Health (name withheld), said she went on PrEP because she is allergic to condoms, and feels that she is at risk of contracting the disease.
A 20-year-old transgender man (also name withheld) said he went on PrEP because he was at risk of getting HIV as it is high among the transgender community.
“It was really a personal decision of preventing myself from the disease for a life time just by taking the pill every day till I consider myself anti-risk,” he said.
This article was first published on 25 July, 2017 on Nampa.org