Nombeko Mpongo, Desmond Tutu Foundation
Allow me to take you back step by step in understanding ARVs:
Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP is the process of preventing HIV within 72 hours after the exposure. The first step is to go to any medical facility near you. When you arrive there, you go through counselling and testing before you are given the pills for you to take for 28 days. These pills are ARVs. They are in this case used for a short period of time to prevent HIV after the exposure. You are not allowed to just take them without medical procedures.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
PrEP refers to the process of preventing HIV prior the exposure. There are many facilities in our communities where one can access PrEP. Desmond Tutu Health Foundation has PrEP projects too depending in certain age groups. PrEP pills are ARV’s. They can be taken for as long as one thinks that there is a possible exposure due to many reasons. You cannot take PrEP today and be exposed on the same day and think that you are going to be protected. The health care worker providing you with PrEP will take you through the process step by step. We currently have PrEP pill in South Africa for now. There are two other PrEP products approved but not available in the clinics. I have read lots of comments in the Facebook post where people were demanding PrEP injection. That is something very positive to think about. But hey; it is not available yet. You will learn about availability in some other week when we take you through the process of access to medicines. This availability applies to the vaginal ring called Dapi ring that is also approved to prevent HIV. The dapiring is inserted in the vagina to prevent HIV. You must remember that not everything is 100%. This means that one needs to adhere of follow instructions carefully.
ARVs for HIV management:
I am using the word management here because many people living with HIV do not have any symptoms and so not feeling sick. I came to understand that some people fail to take treatment when they are not feeling sick and thus leading to medicines failing to work for them. ARVs are mostly used to prevent HIV from progressing to AIDS. You see, we are talking about HIV management for someone who is already infected with HIV. It is because HIV is unique and therefore managed in many ways. When you take treatment very well in so much that your managing health care worker tells you that the levels of HIV in your system are not measurable, you have very limited chances of transfer=erring HIV to your partner. In research we call this TASP meaning Treatment As Prevention. In the common language currently used in the community there is U=U, meaning undetectable equals to uninfectious.
I am hoping that I have cleared a lot of confusion around the reasons why ARVs are taken by both HIV uninfected and infected individuals.
Be on the lookout for the next article where we will be talking about access to medicines.
Nombeko Mpongo can be found on 021 650 1040 or via email on Nombeko.Mpongo@hiv-research.org.za