HomeEditorial CommentUnderstanding post-exposure prophylaxis

Understanding post-exposure prophylaxis

The National Aids Council (NAC) has noted that a number of people are thirsty for information on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

It is very vital that every person gets to understand what PEP is. PEP means taking antiretroviral medications (ARVs) as soon as possible after exposure to
HIV, so that the exposure will not result in HIV infection. These medications are only available with a prescription. To be effective, PEP must begin within 72
hours of exposure, before the virus has time to make too many copies of itself in one’s body.

There are many ways through which one can be exposed to HIV. Among them being accidents and rape or sharing an injection during drug use. Some may get to know
that the person they had unprotected sex with is HIV positive. Nurses, doctors and laboratory scientists working with people with HIV maybe exposed to blood or material contaminated with the virus during the dispensation of their duties. These will require occupational PEP.

Prophylaxis means disease prevention. Before administration of PEP, one is tested for HIV to establish one’s status. This prophylaxis is made up of anti-retroviral medications and should be taken for 28 days. A doctor has to determine what treatment is right for someone based on how one was exposed to HIV. PEP
is perfectly safe although side effects in certain people may not be ruled out. Any of the side effects can be treated and are not life-threatening.

Remember that PEP should only be used in uncommon situations right after a potential HIV exposure. It is not a substitute for other proven HIV prevention
methods, such as correct and consistent condom use or use of sterile injection equipment.
Due to the stigma attached to rape and sodomy, most victims find it difficult to reveal that they suffered sexual assault and therefore forego the opportunity
to take PEP.

Some fear being gossiped about that they are taking ARVs and would rather not take PEP, to the detriment of their health. It is important to get tested for HIV

and know your status. NAC and its strategic partners continue to discourage the people of Zimbabwe from discriminating those taking ARVs and rape victims.
Health workers should also have health-seeking habits and seek treatment when necessary.
Visit your nearest health centre soon after exposure to HIV and get PEP. Remember to take medication as prescribed by health personnel.

However, PEP should only be used in cases of accidental exposure or abuse. It is not a substitute for other prevention measures. Use condoms correctly and
consistently and stick to one faithful partner.

NAC encourages everyone to get tested for HIV and those who are sexually active should go for HIV-testing regularly.

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