One of the biggest and most common worries when engaging in sexual activities is contracting the human immunodecifiency virus or HIV. It is the virus that weakens a person’s immune system and could lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS if left untreated. It’s a good thing that there are methods we could use to avoid catching HIV such as using condoms and taking medicine to reduce the chances of getting the virus. This is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
What exactly is it?
The word “prophylaxis” refers to the process of preventing particular diseases. PrEP is a type of medical regimen that reduces your chances of getting infected with HIV from having unprotected sex. If you are at risk of HIV, you could take PrEP as a preventive measure.
Who should take PrEP?
PrEP should be taken by people who do not currently have HIV but are at risk of getting it through having unprotected sex, especially people who have recently had several sexual partners. It is also recommended for people who have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections or STIs in the last six months.
What are the types and brands of PrEP?
As of right now, there are two pills that can be used for PrEP: Descovy and Truvada. They block HIV enzymes, thus, preventing the virus from establishing an infection. Descovy is recommended for people at risk of HIV through sex. It is important to note that Descovy is not for people who were assigned female at birth. Truvada, on the other hand, is recommended for people who are at risk because of sex and/or injection drug use. There is also an injectable type of HIV medicine called Apretude which is for people who are at risk of HIV infection through unsafe sex and are at least 77 lbs (or 35 kg).
How often should it be taken?
The only PrEP formulation approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is Truvada, a combination of Tenofovir and Emtricitabine. There are two ways to take the drug: take one pill everyday, or take it on demand via the 2+1+1 regimen: That’s two pills taken two to 24 hours before sexual activity, plus one pill 24 hours after taking the first two, plus another pill 24 hours after.
How effective is it?
If taken consistently, PrEP can reduce the risk of getting HIV from unprotected sexual activities by 99%. In some cases, PrEP can cause side effects such as nausea and headaches, but these side effects can go away, and PrEP is generally safe. It is important to note that intake of the pill must be supplemented by safe and protected sex (i.e. through the proper use of condoms and water-based lubricant) and is not a ticket to engage in unsafe sex practices.
What should someone do when they start PrEP?
Once you begin PrEP, you should continuously take it and practice having safe sex. While PrEP can reduce your chances of getting HIV, you should still be wary about contracting other STIs. It’s also vital to get regularly tested while following this regimen to ensure your health and safety.
If you believe PrEP can be great for you, you could see a healthcare provider and ask them about it. You could also contact organizations that offer PrEP such as HIV & AIDS Support House (or HASH) and LoveYourself. LoveYourself launched the PrEP Pilipinas (or PrEPPY) project which provides PrEP in several community centers including Manila, Parañaque, and Bacoor.