Amidst the COVID pandemic and concerns about vaccines, the South African government is rolling out a gaming-changing pill that protects against contracting HIV.
Due to delays including COVID-19, the revolutionary HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pill is currently only available at 36% of public healthcare facilities – but the impact as it is rolled it will be significant.
Yogan Pillay, Deputy Director for Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases, Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation at the National Department of Health, says the PrEP pill will be available at all public healthcare providers by the end of September this year.
The pill combines two antiretrovirals, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine (TDF/FTC), and gives nearly complete protection against contracting HIV. Over the past 4 years, over 50 000 people received the pill during trials. Young women and adolescent girls aged 15 to 24 are at four times higher risk of contracting HIV than males the same age, and since they may not be in a position to negotiate condom use, PrEP allows them to reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sexual activity. The TDF/FTC pill takes seven days to achieve full protection, and should be continued to be taken 28 days after the last HIV exposure. Periodic HIV and kidney function tests will be administered after the first month.
“The PrEP targets in the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022 is 85 000,” said Pillay. “We do however estimate based on the uptake trend at the current PrEP sites that approximately 10.5% of HIV negative persons offered PrEP will take up PrEP.”
The TDF/FTC pill can be taken at any point of the day, with alcohol, and is compatible with the use of birth control pills and other contraceptives. The pill will be made available through the public sector to any HIV negative person with healthy kidneys willing to take it daily. The TDF/FTC pill can only be prescribed by NIMART (Nurse Initiated Management of Antiretroviral Therapy) trained nurses, not other nurses or clinical associates at this time.