Earlier this year, a pill called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) came to the US market. This blue pill is said to prevent the onset of HIV during sex. With cases of HIV-AIDS rising at around two million people every year worldwide, doctors and advocates continue to promote preventive measures―educating people of the proper use of contraceptives and offering free testing―to hopefully curve this.
“We are not doing enough [as a country],” says Gundo Weiler, World Health Organization country representative. “It’s not just [the Department of Health] who will fix this… It’s not magic to have safer sex.”
By next year, PrEP will be available here in the Philippines and LoveYourself, along with health officials, gave us some insight on what we need to know about it.
#1 Take it if you’re sexually active
Whether you’re straight or part of the LGBT community, you can take this pill to avoid getting infected by your partners. “PrEP is a prevention intervention that uses antiretroviral medicine. It is the same medicine that is used for the treatment of HIV infection,” says Rossana Ditangco, head of AIDS research group for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. “So, by definition, if a person is not infected with HIV and is taking HIV to prevent infection once they are exposed to somebody with it.”
Rossana adds that you don’t have to take it all the time as the pill’s effectivity won’t wane off immediately, depending on how long you took it beforehand. “If you’re taking the pill for quite some time, and you stopped, the blood level of the medicine will still be in your system and it will take some time before it wanes off. But if you’re early into it and you stop it, it’ll be a shorter time before the effectiveness of the drug to wane off.”
#2 Don’t stop using protection
“If you are wearing condoms all the time, there’s no need for you to take PrEP anymore,” Rossana says. “But generally we’d recommend using condom on top of PrEP. Because as providers of care, we are really not sure when you’ll miss condom use.”
Another reason Rosanna stated is when your partner has a drug resistant strain. “If your partner already harbors this, resistant to the PrEP strain, you can still get HIV. It will not protect you from that.”
#3 It won’t prevent STDs
In relation to the previous point, PrEP isn’t effective with sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea or syphilis. The difference between the two is that while both can be contracted via sex, you can get HIV through unsterile blood transfusions. So remember to stay cautious.
#4 Warning: side effects
Just like any other drug, PrEP also has some minor side effects like nausea and diarrhea, which will eventually wear off. Rosanna also reminds that people who have kidney problems or allergies to its ingredients are not advised to take it. Make sure to consult with your physician beforehand.
#5 Where can you get it?
According to LoveYourself senior director Christopher Lagman, the drug is available for free at LoveYourself’s HQ in Shaw Boulevard. Once it becomes available early next year, they’ll open only 200 slots for people qualified to take the drug. “We want them to be 18 years old and above and have substantial risk of contracting HIV,” Christopher says. “Now, will we run out of slots? That will be a good problem. But if we do, we might ask for more budget. For now, there [will be] 200 slots available and if you’re interested, you can join the program.”
Meanwhile, there’s still no news whether hospitals and DOH-led regional centers will pick this up in the future. But it’s not too late to hope.
Art by Dorothy Guya