Kenyans who face risk of contracting HIV to be placed on antiretroviral drugs

NAIROBI, Mar 1 – Kenyans who are at a substantial ongoing risk of contracting HIV will for the first time in history be placed on antiretroviral medication, as the government moves to reduce the country’s HIV transmission rate. Kenya reported 77,600 new HIV infections in 2015. Out of these, 71,000 were found to be in the adult population and more than half were in adolescents and young people aged 15 to 24.

The new HIV intervention measure will be rolled out in the country at the end of this month and will involve the use of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) among people who are HIV negative but who face the risk of contracting the disease. Through PrEP, antiretroviral medication will be administered to such individuals in order to reduce their chances of acquiring HIV.

According to Dr. Martin Sirengo who is the Head of the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP), risk assessment criteria will be used to determine those who qualify for PrEP. He explained that the drugs will be prescribed by health care givers after assessment of risk according to the national guidelines.

“The beauty with PrEP is that it is highly effective and will be given to those that are 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,” he said.

Those who choose to take PrEP should take a pill every day. It takes 7 days for it to be effective and users should continue taking PrEP for 28 days following the last exposure. At the same time, those who are enrolled on PrEP will have to be monitored on a regular basis and take a HIV test every three months.

Dr. Sirengo further emphasized that PrEP would be combined with other interventions such as condom use to further 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 an exposure while PrEP refers to HIV drugs that one takes before an 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.