Government to roll out anti-retroviral drug to HIV negative people

 Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug to be used by HIV negative people. (Photo: Courtesy)

The Government has rolled out a drug that will be taken daily by HIV negative people who are mostly at risk of HIV infection.

The drug, referred to as a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to be taken by only those aged 15 years and above will be launched across the country next month.

The roll out is expected to allow Kenyans who require anti-retroviral medicines (ART) to access them to prevent themselves from the risk of acquiring HIV.

Kenya is the second country to embrace the programme in Africa after South Africa. The programme is also found in the United States and Britain.

According to Dr. Martin Sirengo, the head of National AIDS & STI Control Programme (NASCOP) said PrEP is an anti-retroviral drug taken daily by HIV negative people most at risk of HIV infection to reduce their chances of becoming infected.

"If you have exposed yourself to HIV, for example by having unprotected sex with someone who is living with HIV or coming into contact with infected body fluid, taking PrEP correctly can stop the virus from establishing itself in your body," Sirengo said.

He added that if used consistently, it can significantly reduce the risk of getting HIV from unprotected sex.

"It is more effective when used with condoms, safer sex practices and other HIV prevention methods, but it is not a vaccine," Sirengo said.

He named couples with one person who is HIV-positive and one who is HIV-negative, also called "serodiscordant", those who have used post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) twice are the ones targeted for the drugs.

PrEP means taking anti-retroviral medicines (ARV) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected.

Others are people who have multiple sex partners or who engage in transactional sex, victims of sexual violence or those who in the course of having sex realise the condom has burst.

Also those who have had repeated treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on Nascop's radar.

Dr. Sarah Masyuko, Nascop's HIV testing and PrEP manager said the regime involves taking a pill daily for the duration one feels he or she is at risk.

"We are working with county governments in some select public facilities to provide the service free of charge. But the drug will not be bought off the counter. It will only be available in the select public health facilities," she said.

But there are conditions to be met before you access the drugs.

"You must be 15 years and above and you must visit a public hospital to be tested for HIV. If you are negative, then you qualify," Dr. Masyuo said.

For suitability to use the drugs, Kenyans will also be tested for the proper functioning of their liver and kidney.

"The drug will be used the same way one takes malaria pills when visiting prone areas to prevent the occurrence of the disease," Sirengo said.

He noted that the drug coats human being's cells and prevents the HIV virus from attaching to the cells, thus being able to fight off the HIV virus.

Those who are willing to get the drugs from private practitioners will pay a maximum of Sh10,000 per year.

Dr Sirengo said PrEP is incorporated into the Kenya HIV Prevention Revolution Roadmap.

"It is also identified and as an evidence-based intervention in the most recent Kenya Aids Strategic Framework (KASF)," Sirengo said.

PrEP is also included in the guidelines on use of ARV drugs for treating and preventing HIV infections in Kenya, 2016.

"We are rolling out this programme based on evidence we collected from our very encouraging project in Thika called Partners Prevention Programme," Sirengo said.

He said that some people who take PrEP experience side effects that last for a short period. They include headache, weight loss, nausea, vomiting and abdominal discomfort.