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Researchers seek ways to boost uptake of HIV prevention drug

By Harold Odhiambo | August 23rd 2021

Activists protesting over delayed distribution of antiretroviral drugs to health facilities in the counties. July 2, 2021. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard]

Medical experts are mulling over new ways to increase the uptake of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce HIV infections in Nyanza.

They say the drug is one of the interventions transforming the fight against HIV and Aids.

But the experts now claim the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the uptake of the drug by high-risk populations.

This is emerging even as other interventions such as male circumcision has registered a drop of more than 72.5 per cent in the region, threatening the gains in reducing infection rates. Researchers say they are keen on finding new ways to increase uptake of PrEP even as studies on other interventions such as the vaginal ring continue.

Philister Madiega, a researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), said PrEP could be a game-changer in the race to reduce infection rates if used properly.

“There is need to develop innovative strategies to increase uptake of PrEP,” she said.

According to the researcher, more community engagements need to be conducted to enlighten people about the HIV prevention drug.

Those who had been using the drug, especially female sex workers, claim they faced stigma.

MO, a member of the Kisumu Sex Workers Association, said most of them stopped taking the drug during the Covid-19 pandemic. “There were few clients, and so most of us stopped using PrEP,” she says.

She, however, admits that they are still at risk and that the drug has been the saviour for most of them who are HIV negative.

According to the mother of one, there is need to encourage more people to take PrEP.

“I have been using the drug since last year, and it has reduced my risk of contracting the virus,” she says.

PrEP pills. [Courtesy]

Beatrice Nyagol, a research clinician at Impact Research, said although several HIV and Aids diagnoses and prevention strategies are being implemented, an increase in the uptake of PrEP was vital.

“PrEP availability and use are still low in some communities, especially among women and youth,” she says.

She claims new methods should be explored to increase the uptake of the drug.

“We need to provide the populations with several options apart from the oral PrEP and vaginal rings,” says Nyagol.

The use of PrEP has already been approved in many countries, with Kenya among those implementing it to reduce the spread of HIV.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by about 99 per cent.

It is, however, less effective if its recipients do not use it as prescribed, which is supposed to be daily.

These developments come at a time the reduction in the numbers of those going for circumcision in the Nyanza region has alarmed experts.

A report by the National AIDS and STIs Control Programme (NASCOP) shows the number of those undergoing the cut in Kisumu County has reduced from 900 monthly to an average of 60.

Nationwide statistics indicate the numbers have reduced from 200,000 annually to an average of 55,000.

According to NASCOP VMMC programme’s manager Ambrose Juma, the dip is linked to the withdrawal of funding by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey of 2007 showed that an uncircumcised male is five times at risk of contracting HIV from a positive woman compared to a circumcised male.

Covid 19 Time Series


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