HIV prevention medicine becomes available

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-HIV negative people who have significantly exposed themselves to the virus can now reduce their chances of infection by up to 100 percent by taking antiretroviral medication daily.

The Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council (NMRC) approved the antiretroviral drugs, namely TDF (tenofovir) and FTC (emtricitabine), for PrEP use (pre-exposure prophylaxis) in May this year.

This means that people who are at a high risk of being infected with HIV, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who do not use condoms consistently can reduce their chances of contracting the virus that causes HIV/Aids.

This also applies to people who tend to have sex under the influence of alcohol, have recurrent sexually transmitted illnesses and young people in general, as well those with multiple sex partners.

The drugs reduce the infection rate by between 92 to 100 percent, depending on correct use.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services will roll out this intervention at various state health facilities in the country, and it will be available on prescription to patients with medical aid.

Last week, the NAPPA clinic rolled out PrEP intervention in Windhoek. This intervention forms part of other interventions aimed at preventing new HIV infections.

Statistics from PEPFAR Namibia (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) show that HIV/AIDS remains the number one killer in Namibia with up to 3,900 deaths annually.
In addition, health workers identified 14,961 new HIV positive people, while the national HIV prevalence rate for the 15 to 49 years group stands at 13.3 percent.

“Oral PrEP should be offered as part of the combination prevention package that includes HIV testing services, male and female condoms, lubricants and antiretroviral treatment for HIV positive partners in sero-discordant couples (where one partner is positive and the other negative).

“[Together with] voluntary medical male circumcision and sexually transmitted illness prevention and management,” control health programme officer in the special programmes directorate of the Ministry of Health and Social Services Sarah Tobias,” said.

She made the remarks at the opening of a media seminar aimed at educating journalists about PrEP.

Also speaking at the seminar, Dr Kevin Rebe, a specialist medical consultant at the Anova Health Institute/EQUIP in South Africa said that Namibia was one of the first countries to move forward in scaling up its PrEP programme.

“It has to be taken daily in order to be effective,” Rebe said, who also explained that unlike PEP, which a person takes when he or she thinks they have been exposed to HIV, PrEP is more of a longer-term commitment to prevent HIV.

“PrEP is effective where traditional methods have failed. We just have to promote correct use of the intervention if Namibia is to succeed,” Rebe added.

He said that the side effects do not last for a long, but they include nausea and bloating.
With regard to the affordability of the drugs, Rebe explained that someone on PrEP could spend N$500 a month and for the generic version of the medication, but it could be as little as N$220 per month.

“The cost of treatment is always higher compared to the cost of prevention,” Rebe remarked.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services together with its partners, PEPFAR Namibia, USAID and the Society for Family Health made the seminar possible.

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