Most Batswana are aware of the ABCs of HIV prevention and more prevention methods have been added to the list.
On top of the abstinence, being faithful to one’s sexual partner and condomising, prophylaxis have been introduced to HIV prevention. Prophylaxis treatment is one given to people to prevent them getting HIV infection either before or after possible exposure.
According to Tebelopele Wellness Centers, prophylaxis are given to HIV negative people to maintain their negative status.
Dr Gaone Makhwinja based at the Tebelopele Wellness Center explains that Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are currently available at wellness centers and given to clients under government guidelines.
PrEP is medication given to an HIV negative person before they are exposed to the virus with the aim to avoid them contracting the virus. It is usually given to people within high risk areas like adolescent girls, sex workers, same sex couples and couples whose HIV status is different (one negative and one positive). For discordant couples, the one who is HIV positive must be on HIV treatment and have their viral load suppressed to qualify for PrEP.
PrEP is taken all the time when one feels they are at risk. However, when the client wishes to stop meditation, they must consult with doctors and be helped to get off it appropriately.
PEP on the other hand is taken by an HIV negative person after possible exposure to the virus.
Before PrEP and PEP are administered to anyone, they have to take an HIV test to confirm that at the time of consultation they were indeed HIV negative.
Dr Makhwinja also explained that PEP is used for 28 days within 72hours of the exposure meaning when one suspects they have been exposed to HIV, they can enroll for PEP within 72 hours. However, it must be known that at Tebelopele Wellness Centers and public clinics, PEP is given to victims of sexual assault like rape, gender based violence and health care workers who get exposed during medical procedures.
According to government health guidelines, people who have accidents like condom breaks under consented sex do not qualify for Post-exposure prophylaxis. However, private medical practitioners can give them prescription so they can buy the medication at pharmacies.
“We do follow up at 28 days and test the client again for HIV and repeat the test at this interval when the person still tests negative.” she elaborated.
A client given PEP or PrEP will be taken off the medication if their HIV test says Positive so that they can be enrolled for Antiretroviral treatment (ART). Thorough counseling is given to clients whose status has become Positive.
Side effects of prophylaxis can be nausea and the kidneys can be affected. However, this is monitored every 3 months.
Makhwinja has highlighted that there is need for extensive education about these methods of HIV prevention. She says that some Batswana are aware of the treatments as a lot of discordant couples come forth and those with condom failures.
“Every Motswana can understand what they can do under such situations. It is within our vision to see no new infection of HIV. Let’s contain the statistics that are already there and not increase the number of new HIV infections. Services are there to help people and the government has availed them for all to access under given guidelines, ” she encouraged.