Dating someone living with HIV is still taboo in Mzansi. Stigmas especially arise around infection since condoms are not 100% safe. But did you know you may live a safe existence with an HIV-positive person without worrying about contracting HIV? Yes, babes, it is possible with PrEP.
Mpho Mbeki (34), an HIV ambassador from Butterworth, Eastern Cape was initially diagnosed with HIV at the age of 19. She admits it took her some years to make peace with her status. Years passed with her expecting that eventually, the results could come back negative, but that didn’t happen.
It was in 2012 that she finally acknowledged that the findings won’t change and she accepted her situation.
“The advocacy began in 2012 after finally realising that I have HIV, took many more HIV tests but I had to stop and live with this fact then I started speaking out to help myself and others.”
‘PrEP helped me deliver two babies’
Living with HIV for 16 years, she says it hasn’t been easy at all. The obstacles that come with dating and trying to be safe with the other person who may not like using a condom have been the worst.
“After realising that I had HIV, I felt a need to hide my medication and not take them occasionally because I didn’t disclose if I’d met someone new.”
Mbeki worked closely with healthcare experts and she got to learn more about the infection. She explains that PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) was introduced as the first option for those living with HIV but wanting to have children in future. And later PrEP was implemented as well.
Mbeki believes that some people still see it as a stigma to date someone who is HIV-positive, particularly if they are open about it.
The difference between PrEP and ARVs
Sandile Radebe, a student counsellor at UKZN, says PrEP is an option for him to safeguard against HIV. Because of his role as a peer educator, it was introduced at the university in 2018. Therefore, he was required to attend the training and educate other students on its purpose and function.
“I’ve been informed that you need to take PrEP every day at the same time. If, for example, you decide to take it at eight in the morning, you must do it at that time every day.”
“From what I’ve gathered, some people are reluctant to use PrEP because they don’t see the need in taking a pill every day. However, unlike ARVs, PrEp does not function in a linear fashion.”
PrEP is only a preventative measure, whereas ARVs are for persons who have tested positive for HIV. Also, using PrEP, you may safely engage in unprotected intercourse with someone who is HIV-positive and not risk contracting the virus, explains Radebe.
Radebe says that with PrEP, you may return to it and utilise it for seven days before you can engage in sexual activity without altering the regimen, unlike with ARVs, where the regimen can be modified after a set length of non-adherence.
Get the facts on PrEP right now!
PrEP is available to everyone who tests negative for HIV and has no indicators of acute HIV infection. This is according to Dr Mxolisi Xulu, a medical intern at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha. Those who test positive for HIV should begin treatment immediately and are not candidates for PrEP.
“PrEP can be taken by someone who is HIV negative with an HIV-positive sexual partner, especially if viral load is lower than the detectable limit. It is useful for a woman who has an HIV-positive sexual partner and is considering getting pregnant. It can protect both baby and the mother.”
He adds that PrEP is safe and that some people might experience minor side effects like diarrhoea, nausea, headache, fatigue and stomach pains but it normally subsides over time.
Tenofovir is well known for causing renal impairment and should not be given to people with renal problems.
“PrEP reaches maximum protection after seven days of daily use for receptive anal sex and 21 days for receptive vaginal sex and IV drug use,” he says. “PrEP only protects against HIV; condom use is important to protect against all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).”
Xulu notes that in 2021, FDA approved an extended-release IM injection (cabotegravir) to be used for PrEP. Cabotegravir, is administered every two months.
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