Five things to know about new pill for HIV-negative people

Daily antiretroviral pill, PrEP, is only for HIV-negative people who are at an on-going risk of HIV infection.

On Thursday, May 4, Kenya became the second African country after South Africa to roll out a daily pill to protect HIV negative people from contracting the virus.

The Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (abbreviated PrEP) pill is taken daily by HIV-negative people at a on-going risk of being infected.

Head of National AIDS and STI Control Programme (Nascop), Martin Sirengo says the oral drug can be taken by those aged 15 and above to reduce their chances of becoming infected.

According to Nascop’s HIV Testing and PrEP Manager, Sarah Masyuko, among those at high risk of contracting the virus are discordant couples, those with multiple sexual partners, those who have been on STI treatment frequently or victims of sexual violence.

The roll-out by the Ministry of Health which includes a self-testing kit (costing Ksh 800), hopes to bring down Kenya’s new HIV infections.

PrEP promises a new lease of life to the over 260,000 discordant couples said to be in the country; but what do you need to know before you get on the daily pill?

Who is at high risk?, the official website of Gilead Sciences’ drug Truvada that is used for PrEP, identifies the following as some of the factors to identify individuals with high risk of acquiring sexually acquired HIV.

  1. Has partner(s) known to be HIV infected
  2. Engages in sexual activity within a high prevalence area or social network and one or more of the following
  • Inconsistent or no condom use
  • Diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections
  • Exchange of sex for commodities (such as money, shelter, food, or drugs)
  • Use of illicit drugs and/or alcohol dependence
  • Incarceration
  • Sexual partners of unknown HIV status with any of the above risk factors.

While these risk factors are not exhaustive, the general rule is PrEP is for anyone who is HIV negative but constantly at risk of getting HIV.

You must get tested.

PrEP is only for HIV-negative people who are at an on-going risk of HIV infection. It could potentially not work for you as HIV treatment.

Having both the virus and medication in your body allows the virus to become resistant to the medication.

With the launch of the readily available self-testing kits, you can find out your HIV status from the comfort of your home. says HIV negative status must be confirmed prior to initiating PrEP and at least every 3 months thereafter.

Condoms are a must.

For HIV-negative people who take it every day, PrEP can lower the risk of getting HIV by up to 90%. 

“If you decide to use PrEP, you must complement it with other methods of protection,” Sirengo says.

Using condoms is still the best way to prevent HIV infection. Furthermore, condoms protect against STIs and unwanted pregnancy when used correctly and consistently.

Remember the 10% percent could be you!

STRICT adherence to medication

You must strictly adhere to the dosing schedule because the effectiveness of PrEP in reducing the risk of acquiring HIV is strongly correlated with adherence.

You need to take it once a day at more or less the same time. The rate of protection is based on strictly taking the pill daily.  If you don’t take the pill as advised by the doctor, you don’t get full protection.

That said, taking the pill doesn’t have to be on the minute – a few hours either way is okay.

PrEP is not the morning-after pill for risky sex

You need to take the pill once a day for about a month before you are fully protected. As such you cannot take it after a risky sexual encounter and expect to be protected or a day before.

It is important that you take PrEP daily while at risk of acquiring HIV, but when you feel that you are no longer at risk you can talk to your healthcare provider about stopping PrEP.

An estimated 88,620 new HIV infections occur among adults in Kenya yearly. With no cure for HIV, prevention remains paramount.

PrEP can provide high level protection for HIV negative people if taken consistently and combined with condoms and other prevention methods.

WATCH VIDEO: Agnes Nyambura and Peter Waweru, are a discordant couple who are set to benefit from PrEP. Below, they tell their story.

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Story By Eric Ndubi
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