PrEP ambassador claims the drug reduces HIV infections

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Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a daily drug that can reduce a person’s chance of being infected with HIV, says Botswana PrEP ambassador, Beauty Tlhalerwa.

“PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body thus prevent HIV from making copies of itself in the body. Everybody who is HIV negative at a substantial risk of getting HIV for example gays or bisexual men, transgender women, female sex workers, discordant couples, those who inject drugs and those who have recurring STDs,” she said.

Furthermore, Tlhalerwa explained that PrEP is not yet in public clinics, but only available in private health facilities as proved by 2016 Botswana HIV treatment and clinical guidelines. She said it was not yet piloted in Botswana. However, she explained that PEPFAR would support some organisations to offer it to 1,000 individuals.

“These are 600 adolescent girls and young women and the rest to Key Populations. PrEP is ideal for discordant couples if the partner with HIV has issues with viral suppression. If an HIV positive partner is suppressed, then the other partner may not need PrEP. However, if the negative partner has other sexual relationships besides the primary partner who is HIV positive and suppressed, then this negative partner needs PrEP,” she explained.

She pointed out that just like any other drug, PrEP could have some side effect such as nausea and perhaps vomiting. However, she said the side effects goes away after few days while some people don’t experience them at all. According to studies, this initiative can offer up to more than 90% protection if taken as prescribed.

PrEP is seasonal. One can only take it during the time one is at elevated or higher risk of HIV. Tlhalerwa pointed out that if that risk is no more, one could go back to the clinic or provider to be advised on how to stop.

“It provides reduction in HIV risk for HIV negative individuals who take the pills every day as directed. If a daily dose is missed, the level of protection may decrease. It only works if you take it and those who use it correctly and consistently have higher levels of protection against HIV,” she added.

PrEP is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. It is a combination of two HIV medicines (tenofovir and emtricitabine), sold under the name Truvada.

It is approved for daily use as PrEP to help prevent an HIV-negative person from getting HIV from a sexual or injection-drug-using partner who’s positive. Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV if it is used as prescribed. PrEP is much less effective when it is not taken consistently. However, it does not stop anyone from contracting STIs so it is advisable to its users to always use condoms for protection.

According to PrEP Watch Botswana, estimate number of PrEP users till December 2017 was between 25 and 75. It stated that aggregate Target Number of PrEP Users from All Projects (Planned and Ongoing) was between 900 and1, 100.

“PEPFAR Target in COP 2017 targets 1,000 people. Types of Delivery Projects include large-scale implementation initiative and national level campaign where the public would be sensitised about PrEP,” it notes.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness spokesperson, Doreen Motshegwa said the ministry was still in discussion on the pill and it would in due course, communicate its decision regarding the discussed matter.

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