People who are HIV-negative but at high risk of infection can now take an anti-retroviral drug to avoid contracting the virus.
The Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) prevention drug was officially rolled out by the Government Thursday.
The drug, Truvada, will be provided free of charge in selected health outlets, but will cost Sh3,600 a month in private pharmacies.
The PrEP initiative, spearheaded by the Government in collaboration with partner organisations, has taken years of clinical work, clinical trials and more than 50 demonstration projects in Kenya and around the world.
Head of the National Aids and STI Control Programme (Nascop), Martin Sirengo, said the drug would not negate the gains made in reducing HIV infection by promoting promiscuity.
He explained that distribution of the drug to uninfected people was intended to stop new infections.
Dr Sirengo said the programme mostly targeted discordant couples - where an HIV-negative person is living with an infected partner. Such a relationship, experts say, puts the uninfected person at risk of contracting the virus.
“Almost half of all new HIV infections occur in HIV-discordant partnerships. While this (PrEP) is not a cure for HIV, the use of ARVs is an important step in reducing the overall rate of HIV infections,” he said.
Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko said the drug works effectively when combined with other safety measures such as condom use. “It is for negative people who are at risk, partners who are discordant, those who are regularly infected with sexually transmitted diseases, and is more effective when combined with condoms,” he said.
“The most common side effects that patients have reported are mild gastrointestinal upsets in the first few days or weeks as they get used to the medication.”
Other side effects include nausea, vomiting, and stomach upsets. But these problems could also be signs of something more serious like lactic acidosis or too much acid in the blood, according to information published by the drug manufacturer on their website.
The unveiling of the drug is good news for Agnes Nyambura, who is HIV-positive, and HIV-negative Peter Waweru. The two have lived together since 2008 and the PrEP will help them realise their dream of having another child without the risk of infecting Waweru.
“We met in 2008 and have always used protection to reduce the risk of me getting infected, and that has stopped us from having a child but now we can realise this dream,” said Waweru.
Sirengo said the oral drug should be taken seven days before sexual contact with a partner for it to work effectively.