Eveline de Klerk
Swakopmund – Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu Foundation Linda-Gail Bekker says pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) can play a significant role in terms of HIV prevention in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest HIV/Aids infection rate globally.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis is a pill that contains two HIV drugs – tenofovir DF and emtricitabine – used daily by HIV negative people who are at substantial risk of infection, in order to reduce their risk of infection.
Bekker says that adolescents and young women will in particular benefit from this new prevention scale-up methods, especially now that the world wants to prioritise primary prevention for women and young girls.
Bekker, who was attending a meeting on building a stronger HIV prevention movement in sub-Saharan Africa at Swakopmund last week, told New Era in an interview that Africa cannot fight HIV in isolation, as young women in Africa bear the brunt of HIV.
“If we want to protect women in Africa, we have to focus on young girls and adolescent girls,” she said. Women between the ages of 15 to 19 are more likely to be infected than their male counterparts, whilst again in the age group 20-26.
“We see desperate statistics that are the same throughout southern Africa. We also know that young women are more likely to be infected than their peers,” she said.
Due to this, Bekker said, Africa needs to plan long-term strategies that address these structural issues, societies and the environment these women find themselves in, especially in areas where gender-based violence occurs.
“These structures need to be changed. It will take time but we have to, as we cannot afford the number of infections to increase. And that is why we want to prioritize primary prevention for women and young girls, due to the fact that Africa, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, is the worst affected by the epidemic and we need to roll out preventative measures such as PREP, vaginal rings, micorbicide gels to prevent the spread of HIV,” she explained.
Bekker said that prevention methods especially those toward women have failed to date because of a general approach.
“We have gone into populations and presented the same message – however we can now see that we have to design our message with our target groups, in this case adolescents and young women, in mind. So that package we will design for adolescents will look very different to the kind of message we design for men and drug users for example.”