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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Thousands of HIV negative Kenyans to be put on ARVs to prevent infection

An HIV testing kit. /FILE
An HIV testing kit. /FILE

Thousands of HIV negative Kenyans will for the first time in history be placed on daily ARV pills this month to prevent infection.

The pills will be given to those at high risk of contracting the virus, the Health ministry said on Tuesday.

Pilot studies conducted in Kenya prove that if taken daily, the drugs can prevent HIV infection by more than 96 per cent. The country reported 77,600 new HIV infections in 2015.

Read: Global HIV infection rates among sex workers, injecting drug users on the rise

The number of potential beneficiaries is expected to run into the thousands.

But Martin Sirengo, head of the National AIDS and STI Control Programme, said trained health workers will assess who qualifies for this treatment, technically known as Preexposure prophylaxis (Prep).

“The beauty about PrEP is that it is highly effective and will be given to those at risk of contracting HIV. This could include discordant couples where one partner is HIV positive and another is HIV negative; people who frequently contract STIs; individuals who are unable to negotiate condom use; people who frequently use Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and also drug users who share syringes,” Sirengo said.

This will make Kenya the second country in Africa after South Africa to roll out Prep.

The treatment will cost between Sh50,000 to Sh80,000 per person per year, but it is expected that NGOs and other partners will subsidise it.

Read: HIV among gays, sex workers, drug abusers 5X above other groups

Those who choose to take PrEP should take a pill every day as long as they are sexually active. It takes seven days for the pill to be effective.

They will also have to be monitored on a regular basis and take a HIV test every three months.

Last year, the World Health Organization recommended Truvada as a PrEP drug for HIV prevention in combination with safe sex practices including condom use.

Sirengo also said this, noting the approach will enhance the country’s fight against HIV.

“PrEP is as good as it is taken. If taken daily during the period of risk, it is highly effective. We anticipate that PrEP will avert many new infections in Kenya,” he said.

The difference between PrEP and PEP is that PEP refers to HIV drugs that one takes after they have had exposure while PrEP refers to HIV drugs that one takes before exposure so as to prevent any possible transmission.

According to the Center for Disease Control, “PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92 percent if taken consistently.”

Kenya is reported to have the fourth highest HIV burden in the world with an estimated 1.5 million Kenyans said to be living with the virus.

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