NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 13 – Kenyans who are at a substantial ongoing risk of contracting HIV will for the first time in history be placed on antiretroviral medication, as the government moves to reduce the country’s HIV transmission rate.
The Head of the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) Martin Sirengo says the new HIV intervention measure will be rolled out in the country from April and will involve the use of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) among people who are HIV negative but who face the risk of contracting the disease.
Through PrEP, antiretroviral medication will be administered to such individuals in order to reduce their chances of acquiring HIV.
The drugs will be free in all public facilities but those seek treatment in private health facilities will have to purchase the drugs for between $60-100 (equivalent to Sh6,120-10,200) annually.
“Risk assessment criteria will be used to determine those who qualify for PrEP,” said Dr Sirengo. He explained that the drugs will be prescribed by health care givers after assessment of risk according to the national guidelines.
“The beauty with PrEP is that it is highly effective and will be given to those that are at risk of contracting HIV. This could include discordant couples where one partner is HIV positive and another is HIV negative; people who frequently contract STIs; individuals who are unable to negotiate condom use; people who frequently use Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and also drug users who share syringes,” he said.
Kenya is the second country after South Africa to roll out the program said to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92 per cent if taken consistently.
The ARV treatment program is also rolled out in the United States of America as well as Europe.
Teresia Wambui a PrEP user for the last one year decided to take up the treatment since she has more than one sexual partner.
Combined with other preventive interventions like condom use, Wambui states that the treatment on HIV negative people and those most at risk of contracting the virus will enhance the country’s fight against HIV.
“The drug comes in very handy in prevention of HIV virus, it is very effective and I am yet to experience any side effects. I am a mother of teenagers, and this has encouraged me to hold talks on sex education,” said Wambui.
A positive feedback on PrEp use is also echoed by Ibrahim Lwingi who has been on medication for one and a half months.
“Losing my family members to the virus is the main reason as to why I started taking the medication. One time I was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STI) and that’s when reality hit me that indeed, I am exposed to getting the virus,” stated Lwingi.
“The use of the medication has given me the courage to go for regular checkups and also enabled me to live a healthy life,” he noted.
New HIV infections have reduced to 78,000 with 8 pc being children, down from 150,000 some 10 years ago, according to Dr Sirengo.
He states that this has been made possible thanks to the interventions put in place to counter the deadly virus and the scale up of the treatment program which currently over a million people are on.
“Those who choose to take PrEP should take a pill every day. It takes seven days for it to be effective and users should continue taking PrEP for 28 days following the last exposure. At the same time, those who are enrolled on PrEP will have to be monitored on a regular basis and take a HIV test every three months.”
It is anticipated that the drug will avert many new infections in Kenya reported to have the fourth highest HIV burden in the world with an estimated 1.5 million Kenyans said to be living with the virus.
The difference between PrEP and Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is that PEP refers to HIV drugs that one takes after they have had an exposure while PrEP refers to HIV drugs that one takes before an exposure so as to prevent any possible transmission.