The Human Science Research Council (HSRC) says they are disappointed that the uptake of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) has been lower than they had hoped.
PrEP protects those at risk of contracting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Introduced by the government seven years ago, it is a medication a person can take to reduce the risks of HIV if exposed.
The medication is taken by those who are at risk of getting HIV such as teenagers, LGBTQI + community, sex workers and those who have partners who are HIV positive.
Despite the drug being 99% effective if used as prescribed, many still don’t have adequate information about it.
HSRC Clinical Projects Director, Dr. Shannon Bosman says, “It was initially anticipated that oral PrEP pill will lower HIV incidents, but this has been thwarted by low uptake, challenges with daily adherence, and poor prep persistence, particularly among young people. Knowledge around PrEP and access to PrEP are two of the many challenges, so people may not be aware of what products are available and where they can get them, how can they access them and how can they use them.”
In South Africa, three types of PrEP are currently approved. Bosman says, “The oral prep pill, the second option is Dapivirine vaginal ring which is ring inserted vaginally by a woman and can be used up to one month, and it slowly releases the amount of Dapivirine, which is an ARV drug into the vaginal area to prevent HIV. The third option has recently been approved but is not widely available – it’s long-acting injectable cabotegravir given as an injectable ARV every two months to prevent HIV.”
Bosman says young women are currently most at risk of getting infected with HIV, as they currently represent 25% of new HIV infections but account for only 10% of the population.
The North West Department of Health is currently running campaigns across the province but however agrees that more needs to be done.
The department’s Spokesperson, Tebogo Lekgethwane says, “The department agrees that there is still more that needs to be done raising awareness of the PrEP programmes, however, we can also say something is beginning to be done. Up to so far, a total of 32 campaigns were conducted since June last year.”
The department says so far they have reached over 57 000 clients that they had enrolled on PrEP through their campaigns.
The North West Provincial AIDS Council says they are not convinced. Provincial Co-deputy Chairperson, Neo Moepi says, “I think the Department of Health unit that has to deal with issues of community mobilisation and education on PrEP itself is not doing enough. All that I saw in the report that I read yesterday it’s just a list of events that were held mainly with the learners, with sex workers. It does not show that out of the number of sex workers that were spoken to so many were tested and out of those who tested, how many tested negative and they offered an option to take PrEP.”
The Council adds that PrEP education should be taken to communities in the language that they understand. -Reporting by Kagiso Keipopele in Mahikeng